Reflections on 2013 Bicycle Friendly State Rankings

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2013 Rankings:

  1. Washington
  2. Colorado
  3. Oregon
  4. Minnesota
  5. Delaware

See the full 2013 Bicycle Friendly State Rankings.

Every year, our partners at the League of American Bicyclists compile a comprehensive analysis and ranking of the bicycle-related safety, policies, infrastructure, and funding in all 50 states. Their work helps us understand whether or not Americans have the option to ride bikes on safe streets in our communities.

Every year Oregon scores well and in the 2013 Bicycle Friendly State rankings we came in at #3, up two spots from last year. Third place may sound good, but we certainly have room to improve.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance exists to make our streets safe, convenient, and accessible to people riding bikes so we thought we would share some thoughts on the new ranking from a few staff members.

Rob Sadowsky, Executive Director

Each year I look at the League’s ranking and wonder what is going on. It is good to see Oregon move up. I don’t think this is because we did anything better than last year, just that we were evaluated more fairly. I also look at my former state, Illinois, and say, you’ve got to be kidding. 9? Arizona at #10? Maybe this is a contest more about who sucks less.

Some examples: Oregon has the most comprehensive state complete streets and funding package. We set aside 1% of state gas tax dollars and require all roads to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians when constructing new roads or reconstructing roads. Yet our mandatory side path sets us back down. The grades also measure expenditures of federal funding and don’t seem to take into account the State’s contributions. These are not apples to apples policy issues and I’ll take our funding and policy package over any other states, any day.

So, I’m feeling kind of mixed emotions on this report. A little blue, a little, meh. The one thing I know is that we can and should do better.

Gerik Kransky, Advocacy Director

To me, our focus in Oregon is clear. We absolutely must face the reality that we do not yet have a complete transportation system. When a person drives a car in Oregon, we can be sure that a road exists in decent condition to get them to their destination. We cannot make the same statement about people who want to use other forms of transportation. We need to invest in more safe options for getting around.

On the plus side, the Oregon Department of Transportation (OODT) is committing the majority of our upcoming statewide Surface Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to fixing our existing roads. This is the right approach in the face of a growing maintenance backlog. What remains to be seen is how much of a commitment Oregon will make to enhancing our local streets by providing more safe options for people who want to ride a bicycle, walk, or take transit.

We have the nation’s most comprehensive statewide requirement to build complete streets with a complimentary dedication of 1% of state gas taxes to bicycling and walking projects; ORS 366.514 – The Bicycle Bill – is solid public policy. There is a good reason Oregon is close to the top. But the challenge we face is that many existing roads do not provide safe options and transportation officials use loopholes in the letter of the law to undermine its spirit.

My opinion is that we should use this ranking as a reminder of our fantastic statutory requirement, excerpted below, and the opportunity we have as advocates to hold leaders accountable to building a complete transportation system. “… Footpaths and bicycle trails, including curb cuts or ramps as part of the project, shall be provided wherever a highway, road or street is being constructed, reconstructed or relocated. …

Susan Peithman, Advocate

I’m a competitive person and the fact that we’re #3 and not #1 drives me crazy.

I can rattle off a million reasons why Oregon is the best state in the US to ride bicycles. However, the reason why, in my opinion, Oregon should be #1 is because we are the best example of per capita spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects. I think the key indicator to bike friendliness is whether or not a state is willing to put money where their mouth is by funding infrastructure, education, encouragement and safety programs.

In my three and a half years at the BTA I’ve seen Oregon move from 8th in 2011 to 5th in 2012 to 3rd in 2013. I believe the progress is a result of the hard work of folks over the last decade to fight for funding at the legislature and ODOT to dedicate money for active transportation programs such as the ODOT Flexible Fund and the Urban Trails Program. However, the new structure of the Federal Transportation Bill led ODOT to restructure their programs, which resulted in the loss of all but a paltry sum of our dedicated funding.

Without dedicated funding, I doubt we’ll ever get to #1 and we’ll have to fight hard to stay in the top 5. We must continue to advocate for and communicate the benefits of bicycles in our communities and work to set aside funding for active transportation. The BTA wants Oregon to be #1 and we need your help to get there.

Carl Larson, Advocate

8th, 3rd, 4th…I’m happy as long as we’re NOT #1. Oregon is a great state for bicycling and this designation reminds us that we can get even better.

At third, we’re leaders who have more work to do. At third, competitive people like Susan Peithman are furiously working to be #1.

At #1 we’d risk losing sight of the larger reality: even in the top-10 states, people don’t ride bicycles as much as they’d like. If these states want to offer bicycling as a safe and attractive transportation option, they’ll need to aim higher than the bar that Washington state is setting — more funding, smarter laws, better integrated education, and safer road design.

This list gives lower-ranking states good feedback on how they can improve and where they can look for examples and guidance. The list does not, however, define the upper reaches of our nation’s potential.

Will Vanlue, Communications Manager

I’m decidedly confused about Oregon’s ranking this year. It’s nice to be in the top three but, like a lot of states, we earned fewer points over all than in past years. We’re basically tied with states #4 and #5, Minnesota and Delaware, and we’re not that far ahead of any state in the top 10, as far as ranking criteria is concerned.

It’s easy to look at a list like this for an answer to the question, “Where’s the best state to ride a bicycle?” Is it “better” to ride a bicycle in Washington than it is in Oregon? The answer depends heavily on which part of each state you’re trying to ride in. Urban Washington looks a lot different than rural Oregon, and vice versa.

My take-away from this year’s ranking is really how much ground everyone in the US has to make up to get anywhere near the safety, accessibility, and comfort of other countries’ transportation networks.

Our ranking feels less like evidence that Oregon “is better” than 47 other states and more like evidence we’re improving at a slightly faster rate than most places in the country — yet at the same time, more slowly than Colorado and Washington. Sometimes trajectory is more important than position.

Comment

Comments (2)

  1. Barb Chamberlain (@barbchamberlain) Permalink  | May 01, 2013 09:58am

    Great approach to reflecting on the rankings. I can tell you that in the #1 state, we’re NOT losing sight–ever–of the need to get more people on bikes. Our take is that every time anyone looks at a ranking we all know that the bar should be higher and that it’s our job to push it, wherever we live.

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