Bicycle Index: Most Bike-Friendly Cities

Cycling is a cardio workout, but it’s easier on your joints than running.  It’s a low-cost way to exercise that requires few special skills or equipment. Cycling is accessible for those who don’t have the money or time to devote to fitness.  And studies show that bike commuters report lower stress levels than those who commute by car or public transit.

Leading an active lifestyle is one of the best ways to engage in preventative care and make sure you see the doctor less.  BetterDoctor crunched the numbers to determine which cities are the best and safest for bikers.

We used the following factors to determine how bike-friendly a city is:

1. Are there other bikers?  We included the percentage of commuters who commute to work by bicycle.  This was weighted at 40% of the overall score.

2. Can bikers travel safely? We weighted the number of fatalities per 10,000 bikers at 30% of the overall score.

3. Are there ongoing infrastructure improvements to support bikers? Infrastructure such as bike lanes makes it easier and safer to ride.  We included federal spending on bike and pedestrian projects and weighted it at 30% of the overall score.

More on our methodology can be found at the bottom of the page.

Trends and Themes:

West coast is the best coast for bikers. Four out of the top ten cities are on the west coast, including Portland, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Big cities tend to score higher on the list.  Big cities tend to be more walkable and have a younger population, making them more likely to have commuters biking to work.

Good weather makes it easier to bike.  As one might expect, many of the top cities on our list have fairly temperate climates, including Portland, Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco.  Minneapolis is the only city with a harsh winter that made it to the top ten.

Bicycle commute rates vary widely city-by-city. The percentage of commuters who travel by bicycle ranges from .14% (El Paso) to 6.14% (Portland).  That’s a huge range, and Portland’s strong biking culture and widespread bike lanes contribute to its place at the top of our analysis.

BetterDoctor’s advice: Investments in infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes, can encourage more residents to bike as well as make biking more safe.  In cities where residents are working two jobs, where many are low-income, infrastructure like bike lanes becomes increasingly important.  Cycling is one of the easiest and lowest-cost ways to exercise, and it’s a low-cost way to commute.  We recommend that commuters engage in safe biking practices—that means wearing a helmet, using bike lights at night and using bike lanes when possible.

Rank City Percentage of commuters who bike to work Bicycle fatalities per 10,000 commuters Federal transportation funds obligated to bike/pedestrian projects per capita Overall score for bikers
1 Portland 6.14% 1.1 $8.35 87.59
2 Washington, DC 4.03% 1.1 $13.80 84.31
3 Minneapolis 3.92% 2.3 $10.95 77.08
4 Oakland 3.00% 3.0 $6.45 61.53
5 Sacramento 2.32% 5.3 $9.46 61.31
6 New Orleans 2.79% 5.8 $7.64 60.48
7 Tucson 2.94% 3.0 $6.04 60.32
8 Miami 0.94% 7.9 $14.22 59.68
9 San Francisco 3.72% 0.9 $1.31 57.66
10 Philadelphia 2.14% 2.3 $6.91 57.21
11 Seattle 3.67% 1.7 $0.00 54.16
12 Denver 2.43% 1.5 $1.04 48.09
13 Albuquerque 1.32% 5.6 $6.19 47.96
14 Austin 1.57% 2.4 $4.18 47.93
15 Atlanta 0.94% 1.6 $5.02 45.97
16 Raleigh 0.53% 3.4 $6.16 44.21
17 Milwaukee 0.94% 4.0 $4.32 42.87
18 San Jose 0.92% 4.4 $4.36 42.52
19 Boston 1.92% 2.5 $0.00 41.92
20 Chicago 1.45% 3.9 $1.44 40.63
21 Honolulu 1.92% 3.6 -$0.40* 40.34
22 Baltimore 0.87% 4.6 $2.62 38.60
23 Los Angeles 1.09% 4.3 $1.67 38.40
24 Dallas 0.24% 17.6 $9.18 38.09
25 New York City 1.01% 6.4 $1.38 35.79
26 Kansas City 0.45% 10.4 $4.71 35.79
27 Nashville 0.29% 3.8 $2.25 34.58
28 Wichita 0.28% 0.0 $0.66 34.08
29 Long Beach 0.99% 9.8 $1.78 34.02
30 San Antonio 0.26% 5.4 $2.64 34.00
31 San Diego 0.92% 6.8 $0.85 33.86
32 Arlington 0.19% 0.0 $0.64 33.44
33 Colorado Springs 0.61% 4.8 $0.95 33.42
34 Virginia Beach 0.56% 3.9 $0.08 32.01
35 Houston 0.56% 11.2 $2.71 31.99
36 Mesa 0.99% 14.5 $2.26 31.60
37 El Paso 0.14% 8.3 $2.83 31.50
38 Cleveland 0.53% 3.6 -$0.25* 31.37
39 Tulsa 0.25% 8.2 $2.32 31.30
40 Columbus 0.82% 7.3 $0.04 31.23
41 Omaha 0.23% 18.6 $5.29 29.60
42 Las Vegas 0.38% 10.5 $0.00 25.92
43 Fresno 1.05% 20.9 $1.43 25.78
44 Indianapolis 0.44% 11.9 $0.00 25.32
45 Louisville 0.34% 12.0 $0.13 24.84
46 Phoenix 0.69% 19.3 $1.42 24.50
47 Charlotte 0.21% 18.3 $2.44 24.04
48 Memphis 0.33% 36.0 $5.36 17.95
49 Oklahoma City 0.23% 21.1 -$0.93* 15.49
50 Jacksonville 0.44% 33.1 $1.93 13.96
51 Detroit 0.40% 39.8 $0.97 7.00
52 Fort Worth 0.17% 41.9 $0.73 3.49

*A negative value indicates more de-obligated funds than new obligations

Most Bike-Friendly Cities

1. Portland, Oregon A whopping 6.14% of Portland’s commuters bike to work.  That’s 50% more than the bike commuting rate of the next-highest city, Washington DC.  Portland’s bike culture is supported by the local government, which holds cycle classes and guided bike tours and holds a Bicycle Lunch and Learn series every month.

2. Washington, DC DC is investing heavily in improving infrastructure for bikers, at the cost of almost $14 per person.  Just over 4% of DC’s commuters travel by bike, and the fatality rate is one of the lowest in our analysis.  Bikers can participate in monthly rides, and the government has established 56 miles of marked bike lanes and the first public bike sharing program in the United States.

3. Minneapolis, MN Minneapolis is the only city with a harsh winter that made it into our top ten.  Almost 4% of commuters bike to work there, and the city is investing almost $11 per person in infrastructure to support bikers and pedestrians.  Minneapolis has 118 miles of on-street bike paths and 92 miles of off-street bike paths.  Bikers can ride on the completely car-free bike paths of Ground Roads Scenic Byway.

4. Oakland, CA 3% of Oakland’s commuters travel by bike, and the fatality rate for bike commuters is fairly low.  Oakland’s hiking areas also offer mountain biking paths, and the East Bay Bike Party holds a monthly ride.

5. Sacramento, CA Sacramento invests almost $10 per person in federal funding toward bike and pedestrian projects.  The Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates offer resources to help cyclists, and cyclists can learn to repair their own bikes at the Sacramento Bike Kitchen.

6. New Orleans, LA Almost 3% of commuters in New Orleans commute by bicycle.  The New Orleans Bicycle Club offers races, and NOLA Social Ride plans weekly rides, including themed ones like music rides.

7. Tucson, AZ Tucson has a large biking community, with almost 3% of commuters choosing to travel to work by bike.  Twice a year, during Tucson Cyclovia, the streets are temporarily closed to cars and open to bikers and walkers, and the local government sponsors free bike commuter and safety classes.

8. Miami, FL Miami has a strong bike culture, with a critical mass (an event where bikers do an organized ride) every single month.  Miami has a Citi Bike bike share program with a thousand bikers for locals and tourists to rent.

9. San Francisco, CA Almost 4% of San Franciscan commuters get to work on a bicycle, and the bike fatality rate is very low, at only .9 fatalities per 10,000 commuters.  San Francisco is home to the Bicycle Music Festival, an entirely bicycle-powered music festival, and cyclists can learn how to repair and maintain their bicycles at the Bike Kitchen, a nonprofit cooperative shop.

10. Philadelphia, PA The City of Brotherly Love has 205 miles of bicycle lanes.  Cyclists can take advantage of the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia’s many events and rides.  And in 2015, the city will have its own bike share program.

Least Bike-Friendly Cities

1. Fort Worth, TX
2. Detroit, MI
3. Jacksonville, MO
4. Oklahoma City, OK
5. Memphis, TN
6. Charlotte, NC
7. Phoenix, AZ
8. Louisville, KY
9. Indianapolis, IN
10. Fresno, CA

Our data sources: We used data from the U.S. Census 2013 American Community Survey to determine the percentage of bike commuters out of all commuters in the city.  Data for the number of fatalities and federal spending on bike and pedestrian projects (averaged over a 4-year period) came from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Census.  We included the 52 largest cities in our analysis.  Percentage of bike commuters was weighted at 40% of the overall score, number of fatalities at 30% and federal spending on bike and pedestrian projects at 30%.

Flickr // Andy Rothwell

Divya Raghavan

Hi! I'm Divya. I lead marketing at BetterDoctor. I'm a Midwesterner, vegetarian and Harvard graduate.

8 thoughts on “Bicycle Index: Most Bike-Friendly Cities

  1. There’s one glaring defect in putting Portland, OR at the top of your list: The city is renown for its backward policies regarding off-road cycling. Yes, commuting rates and other indicators of bicycle-friendly transportation infrastructure are important measures, but no city with such antipathy towards mountain bikers should be anywhere near the top of your list. Off-road cycling is a safe and sustainable activity that connects individuals, families and children to nature, outdoor recreation and better health. But you can’t do it in Portland. Despite having one of the largest urban open space parks in the country (Forest Park) located immediately adjacent to its downtown core, cyclists are banned from virtually all the desirable trails at Forest Park and elsewhere in the city. Portlanders are forced to drive an hour or more out of town to find good riding opportunities. Does that sound like the most bicycle-friendly city in America?

    1. Hi TrailsForAll,

      Thanks for your feedback. We focused on commuter bicyclists in this study, but you make a good point that off-road cyclists will have to go out of the city, as is the case with most major cities.

      1. Thanks very much for your attention to this, Divya. But I’ll offer one
        more push back. It’s not the case that other major/middle cities are no better. If you start poking around a little, you’ll find that places
        ranging from San Diego to Boise to Minneapolis – many facing far greater geographical constraints than Portland – have major shared-use recreational trail systems (where cyclists are welcome) very near their city centers.

  2. LOL Miami and bike friendly is like saying that a ferocious tiger that has not been fed in days is baby friendly because it looks like a stuffed animal. Killing cyclist should be considered a sport here in Miami and no local dares to ride on any somewhat major street. Also, let’s remember that the weather in Miami is insanely humid and hot to never EVER want to ride a bicycle during the day.The fact that you, as a tourist, can rent a bike and you are naive enough to understand the risk of riding a bicycle in this city doesn’t make it a decent cyclist paradise. It is funny that Albuquerque, NM is not mentioned here since it has an incredible infrastructure just for bicycles and there is a huge bicycle culture in the city, plus the weather is mostly nice. Yeah, maybe you haven’t been there, so you do not have an opinion other than California and the few other cities you have visited during your vacations.

    1. Hi mundotaku. Our methodology is listed in detail at the bottom of the article. What factors would you include instead? Weather? Any feedback is appreciated as we are constantly researching.

      Unfortunately data was only available for the 52 largest cities, so we did not evaluate smaller cities like Albuquerque.

  3. This study is absolutely inaccurate with their data and paints a completely false picture of biking in Indy. Maybe you should hire a fact checker!

    1. Thanks for your feedback. For a detailed description of our data sources and methodology, please check the bottom of the article. We used data from the U.S. Census to determine the percentage of bike commuters out of all commuters in the city. Data for the number of fatalities and federal spending on bike and pedestrian projects (averaged over a 4-year period) came from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Census.

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