Feb 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Burgeoning bike cities emerge across America

A cyclist on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston.

A cyclist on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

U.S. cities have long lagged behind counterparts in Europe when it comes to biking infrastructure, but some metros are making a push to build more lanes and boost bike commuting.

Why it matters: Transportation is the leading generator of greenhouse gases, the Urban Institute notes. Still, just 0.5% of Americans commuted on bikes in 2019, reports National Geographic.

  • Compare that with the Netherlands, where 27% of the country commutes by bike.
  • The difference is infrastructure. Per a recent National Geographic survey, 70% of people in the U.S.'s 50 biggest metro areas say they're interested in biking, but half of them say they're too afraid to bike in the street.

What's happening: A number of cities are expanding bike infrastructure — and seeing subsequent rises in rates of biking.

  • Oakland added nearly 130 miles of bike lanes to go from 56 miles in 2000 to 183 in 2020. The share of commutes that were bike trips jumped 40% in that same period, Bloomberg reports.
  • Boston, Chicago and Austin also boosted their rates of biking by 59%, 53% and 19%, respectively.

And cities can build up bike infrastructure quickly: Providence, Rhode Island, went from about 10 miles of bike lanes per million inhabitants in 2019 to nearly 120 just two years later, according to the Urban Institute.

What to watch: Even with big gains in a smattering of cities, rates of biking in the U.S. remain quite low. The rise of remote work is taking some cars off the roads, but many more cities will need to build many more miles of safe bike lanes for biking to boom.

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