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How Did Chicago Wind Up Being Named America's Second-Best Bike-Friendly City?

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 5, 2014 9:40PM

Image via Chicago Department of Transportation screen grab.

There is a bit of a shake-up on Bicycling magazine’s annual list of the 50 most bike-friendly cities in America. New York City and Chicago take the top two spots on this year’s list, published in Bicycling’s October issue. That places the Big Apple and Windy City over noted bike-friendly cities as Minneapolis, Portland and Washington, DC.

You may be doing the same double-take I did reading that news. So did Streetsblog Chicago’s John Greenfield before he took a step back to rationalize Chicago’s high ranking.

Few people would argue that Chicago, where dangerous driving and torn-up pavement are commonplace, is currently a more pleasant place to cycle than Portland, which fell to fourth place from its top ranking in 2012. Plus, our bike commute mode share — the percentage of trips to work made by bicycle — is only 1.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. That’s less than a quarter of the Rose City’s 6.1 percent.

While Bicycling’s rankings are subjective, they do have some quantitative backbone. New York and Chicago got credit for having steadily rising rates of bike commuting. Chicago’s mode share rose more than 150 percent from 2000 to 2012, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey, while Portland and Minneapolis’ mode shares have leveled off in recent years. The 2013 Census estimates, due later this month, are likely to show further improvement in Chicago and NYC.

Bicycling gave Chicago propers for other bike-friendly projects such as the growing number of buffered and protected bike lanes that have been put in place during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first term, the Divvy bike-sharing program which will be the largest in North America by next spring, the Navy Pier Flyover project, and measures such as doubling the fine for dooring a cyclist to $1,000. The magazine dinged Portland for a lack of protected bike lanes and a bike-sharing network.

Emanuel, who usually crows about these things as proof Chicago is a—wait for it—“world class city” released a (for his administration) subdued statement.

“Chicago is a national leader in building new and improved cycling facilities, and we are setting a new standard for other cities to follow,” Mayor Emanuel said. “This new ranking by Bicycling Magazine demonstrates that Chicago is on the right path to becoming the best cycling city in America.”