Is New York really America’s best place for cycling? It’s hard to believe. For one, the city has seen its fair share of bike accidents and fatalities recently. For another, the roads are in generally poor shape after last winter’s deep freeze. And, well, New York’s roads are notoriously car-centric. Its longtime master planner, Robert Moses, looked down on bikes and even banned cyclists from certain roads and bridges.
Then again, New York deserves credit for how far it’s come as a cycling city, says Bill Strickland, editor of Bicycling magazine, which recently released its 2014 city ranking. New York is number one because it’s added 350 miles of bike lanes in the last 12 years, doubled the number of people commuting by bike, and launched a bike share scheme that signed up 96,000 members in its first year.
“There are a million better places to go on a beautiful ride. But what makes New York great is it’s defining what’s going to make cycling great in cities in the future,” says Strickland, explaining the decision. “The fact that it works there shows that this can happen everywhere. We think New York is going to have a big influence.”
Bicycling ranks cities through a combination of number-crunching and internal debate. First, it gathers data on things like the percentage people riding, infrastructure spending (bike lanes, bike racks, and so on) and traffic congestion. Then, it talks to advocacy groups, city officials and local riders. Finally, its staff argue the merits of cities until the ranking emerges.
After New York comes Chicago in second place, followed by Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon (which was first in the last ranking, in 2012), Washington, D.C., Boulder, San Francisco, Seattle, Fort Collins, and Cambridge.
Among the most improved cities, says Strickland, is Indianapolis, which wasn’t even listed in 2012, but now comes 25th. Its biggest achievement: an eight mile Cultural Trail that connects downtown with a protected regional network. “The mayor [Greg Ballard] talks a lot about how bike lanes are going to attract really vibrant people, the creative class. For a smaller big city in the mid-west, they’ve made a lot of process,” Strickland says.
To highlight how conditions for cyclists are now generally better within cities than in suburbs, Bicycling also named a worst place–Babylon, a town on New York’s Long Island. “We picked it because it’s emblematic of what’s going in the suburbs,” Strickland says. “It’s fascinating that people originally wanted to go there for a better quality of life. But now you’re quite isolated. You can’t enjoy recreational life without getting in your car.”
See the full ranking here.