Once was that American cities competed to look more like Detroit, with gleaming lanes of highway stretching as far as the eye could see. Any more, it’s a race to imitate Copenhagen, the Danish capital where 36 percent of residents commute to work via bicycle.
So it seems, at least, when looking at today’s announcement by the League of American Bicyclists of the latest -- and largest -- round of official Bicycle Friendly Communities in the U.S. Some of the cities on the list will come as no surprise: Portland, San Francisco, and Chicago are here, as is Missoula, Mont., where 7 percent of residents bike to work, versus the 0.6 percent national average. But so are cities like Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cottonwood, Ariz. Twenty-five more cities applied for bicycle-friendly status, but were denied.
The league hands down its Bicycle Friendly certification with a multi-tier, Olympics-like grading system: Cities can earn bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The awards, which have been around since 1996, recognize cities that both promote cycling as a means of transportation and actively work to make cycling safer. A panel of national experts brought in by the league and local enthusiasts (bike shop owners, advocacy group leaders) assesses applications along five main criteria: engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement.
The best cities, League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke says, have action plans in place to ensure that residents have opportunities to ride. They have city-sponsored bike rides, and networks of bike trails, lanes, and sharrows that connect them to where they need to go.