The States And Cities That Are Best For Getting To Work On Two Feet

Are we slowly seeing the death of the car commute? An exhaustive new report commissioned by the CDC looks at the progress the U.S. has made in encouraging walking and cycling.

The States And Cities That Are Best For Getting To Work On Two Feet
[Image: Bicycle via Shutterstock]

There’s been a big shift in how cities and states view cycling and walking. Having barely heard of a protected bike lane a few years ago, many are now putting in friendlier infrastructure and generally making bikers and pedestrians feel more valued.


Which city is the furthest ahead? You can get a sense from an exhaustive new report that ranks states and cities, commissioned by the CDC and coordinated by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, a coalition of advocacy groups. We picked out a few points here.

The Streets Are Getting Safer

It may not always seem that way, but the data says so. Since 1980, the number of pedestrian fatalities has fallen from 3.6 per 100,000 people to 1.4, the report says. The cyclist-death rate has also fallen, from 0.4 per 100,000 people in 1980, to 0.2 in 2011.

Having said that, you’re more likely to have an accident in some places than others. Among states, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi had the highest pedestrian fatality rates (though Florida’s numbers are down enough to make a dent nationally). Among cities, Jacksonville and Detroit had the highest numbers. For cyclists, Mississippi and Arkansas, and Fort Worth and Detroit, posed the greatest risks. And, you were least likely to die on a bike in Montana and Maine.

The report gives credence to the “safety-in-numbers” effect (which says more riders make roads safer). “In cities where a higher percent of commuters walk or bicycle to work, corresponding fatality rates are generally lower,” it says.

Alaskans Commute The Most By Foot And Bike

That’s right. Alaska tops the chart for commuting levels by biking and walking, and also for per-capita spending on pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Tennessee and Alabama come last for commuting levels; Maryland and New Jersey last for spending.

Intrigued by Alaska’s numbers, the Alliance ran an analysis to see if there was a link between weather and biking/walking levels. It didn’t find much evidence for it. People living in colder climates were just as happy to commute under their own steam, while in hotter places, there was only a mild dampening effect. “Cities experiencing a greater number of these 90-degree days were more likely to have lower walking and bicycling rates,” the report says.


Boston Wins For Foot-Powered Commuters Among Cities

Boston comes top for biking and cycling commute levels, with a particularly high rate among younger people (students presumably). Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, come next on the list, perhaps not surprisingly. Fort Worth and Wichita, Kansas, come last. Miami has the highest rate of spending, followed by Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis (which is known for its high number of fitness facilities). Oklahoma City and Honolulu had the lowest rate of spending.

San Francisco Has The Most Bike Infrastructure

Actually, it’s not even close. San Francisco has about eight miles of dedicated bike infrastructure, according to page 150 of the report. The next best cities were Austin and Long Beach, California, with about five miles. El Paso, Texas, had the least.

Walkers And Bikers Are Still White And Male

A big challenge in trying to raise biking and walking levels is to get a more diverse range of people doing it. The report doesn’t give much hope as yet (though most of its numbers are from 2011/2012, so things could have moved on more recently). Women make up 27% of cycling commuters, up from from 23% in 2007. Only 29% of walking commuters are non-white and non-Hispanic, the report finds. Fresno, Philadelphia, and Memphis had the highest numbers of women bike-commuting (about 41% of the total). But places like Dallas and Las Vegas had barely any at all: The vast majority (93%) were men.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.