The Top 10 Biking Cities In America, Mapped By How People Commute

These handsome maps–where each dot represents one commuter–create beautiful impressions of each city’s transportation patterns.

John Nelson is the designer behind the maps visualizing all varieties of transportation in the Seattle metropolitan area, which have lately caught the eyes of people around the Internet (including ours). As the maps grew in popularity, Nelson started fielding inquiries from cyclists (especially Portlanders), wondering what their hometowns might look like in one of his maps.


Those requests got him wondering about the best cities across the country for biking and walking. So, he says, he “found Bicycle Magazine’s top bike-friendly cities and looked at census commuting data for those places, made available by a data partner I work with at Applied Geographic. The result of that was a set of maps showing a bird’s-eye view of how foot-powered commuting looks in those places.”

In “Foot Power: America’s Top 10 Bike-Friendly Cities,” Nelson places one dot on the map for every cyclist and pedestrian commuter in those 10 cities: Minneapolis, Portland, Boulder, Seattle, Eugene, San Francisco, Madison, New York, Tucson, and Chicago. Each blue dot represents a biker, and each green dot a walker. The grey dots represent everyone else, both transit riders and drivers. Put together, the dots form a beautiful impressionistic view of how a city gets to work each day. Portland, for instance, is a sea of blue, while Manhattan is mostly defined by green walkers while the outer boroughs are made up mostly of grey subway takers.

In this case, the one-dot-to-one-commuter ratio is not only lovely, but also a way of connecting to the people who emailed Nelson about creating the maps in the first place: there’s a chance, albeit a loose one, that they could approximate the dot or dots corresponding to their daily commutes. And of course the technique serves as a reminder that transit systems are really about people–how we move and interact with each other, and the footprints or tire tracks we leave behind.

Explore the large versions of the maps here.