What makes a city “bicycle-friendly”? Number of bike lanes? Number of commuters? Number of bike shops? Climate? Online reviews of bike-friendly cities are extraordinarily common, but many rely upon survey information which is often outdated or misinterpreted. So does the #1 ranking of Sacramento in one such review make use of accurate data?
Many sources suggest that Portland, OR, not Sacramento, is the most bicycle-friendly city in the US, although a recent survey by Bicycling magazine, analyzed by the online cycling commuter authority CommuteByBike.com, indicates that Portland may have been knocked off the top spot by Minneapolis, MN. What is more interesting, though, is that Bicycling magazine’s survey does not even give Sacramento a rank, much less the top seed.
Another bike-commuter resource, Bike Commute Tips, makes use of data from a 2005 survey by the US Census Bureau which examined commuting by bicycle in major US cities. The Census survey included both Minneapolis and Portland in its rankings, and placed Sacramento sixth out of ten cities for percentage of bicycle commuters. Sacramento was beaten by Tuscon, Seattle and San Francisco, as well as the two favorites, Portland and Minneapolis.
So where, or if, Sacramento appears on any top-ten lists for bike-friendly cities seems to depend upon where you look for data, but what is clear is that Sacramento rarely – if ever – grabs the top spot. But does the city even deserve to be considered bicycle-friendly?
Cycling is popular in Sacramento for a number of obvious reasons: the climate is favorable, the metropolitan area and outlying suburbs are generally flat, and of course we have the American River Bike Trail. The ARBT is a great resource for bicycle commuters, but unless you live and work immediately off the trail then you will be forced to use the county and city roads to complete your commute.
That’s where the problems begin. Many of Sacramento’s chief arteries do not incorporate sufficient bike lanes, and those that do are often abused by drivers, who frequently use the marked cycle lanes to park, or as right-turn lanes. Other roads which feature dedicated cycle lanes inexplicably cut them short in the middle of busy roads, forcing cyclists into risky manouevres to avoid lane-changing traffic.
If Sacramento is ever to claim a meaningful position on a list of cycling-friendly cities, basic improvements to cycle-commuter safety are essential. It remains to be seen whether major ongoing road reconstruction in several areas of Sacramento will take cycle-commuters into account, but the time for serious promotion of bicycle-commuting in the city has long since arrived.