Connecting state and local government leaders

How 'Bike Friendly' Is Your State?

A man rides a bicycle in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May of 2017.

A man rides a bicycle in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May of 2017. Shutterstock / Debra Anderson

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

For states looking to improve conditions for cyclists, a “complete streets” policy can be a good first step.

Washington, Minnesota and California received high marks in a new report on the most bicycle-friendly states, while Nebraska, Hawaii and North Dakota fared the worst.

The League of American Bicyclists released its 2017 Bicycle Friendly State ranking on Wednesday. Each state’s ranking factors in weighted scores for how it performed in five categories: infrastructure and funding; education and encouragement; legislation and enforcement; policies and programs; and evaluation and planning.

Additionally, the rankings show how many of five “bicycle friendly actions” a state has taken.

These actions include whether a state has: a “complete streets” policy; a law that defines a safe distance motorists must maintain when passing cyclists; a statewide bike plan; a “strategic highway safety plan” with a special “emphasis area” for bicycles; and whether a state has spent at least 2 percent of its federal transportation funding on bike or pedestrian projects between fiscal years 2012 and 2016.

The complete 2017 rankings are shown in the chart below.

Click on the chart to expand it in a new window.

(The League of American Bicyclists)

The state transportation department in Nebraska, the state which checks in at 50th on the rankings list, issued a statement in response to the report.

“Based on the criteria used to produce the report rankings, there are areas where Nebraska can improve and to that end we’ve already been working to engage our state’s bicycle community to figure out how to address some of the issues identified,” the statement said.

Ken McLeod, policy director for The League of American Bicyclists, said during an interview on Tuesday that for states at the bottom of the rankings, a good first step to improve their standing would be creating a complete streets policy, if they don’t have one already.

“I think there’s an opportunity to both improve biking and save money by incorporating planning for biking and walking in normal planning processes. So that biking and walking aren’t always an add-on,” he said. “If you’re resource-constrained, you don’t want to do things twice.”

McLeod pointed out that the extent to which states depend on federal dollars to complete bicycle and pedestrian projects varies across the U.S. A key source of federal funding for these projects is what’s known as the transportation alternatives set-aside.

Authorized funding levels for the set-aside total $835 million to $850 million between fiscal years 2016 and 2020. Under the 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation, or FAST Act, the method changed for determining the level for transportation alternatives funding, McLeod explained, shifting from a percentage of transportation funding to a set amount.

“That’s potentially a bad thing,” he said, because the money available for bike and pedestrian projects will not necessarily go up if overall federal transportation funding rises.

Looking ahead, he said that if the Trump administration successfully pushes ahead with its promised infrastructure investment package, it could present opportunities for bicycle projects.

That would be the case, he added, even if the White House proposal includes an emphasis on public-private partnership deals. “There might be opportunities there,” McLeod said. “It’s fairly rare to have, say, tolled bikeways. But it’s not without historical precedence.”

The League of American Bicyclists has released eight previous Bicycle Friendly State rankings, with the most recent issued in 2015. A full copy of the latest rankings can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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