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Best Bike-Commuting City - based on personal experience

Old 10-20-14, 12:01 PM
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Best Bike-Commuting City - based on personal experience

I see a lot of 'bike city' lists, they tend to be overall evaluations. I'm interested in best cities for commuting by bike and based on personal experience. I've been to many of the top 'bike cities' over the last year or so, here are my thoughts:

San Francisco is the best city I've seen, bikes and cars seem to work well together and get along. Not a lot of special infrastructure, but the culture seems to get how to use the road together. I was only in the area around Moscone Center (Dreamforce) and was on foot the whole time (no need for a bike).

Chicago,last month I was in Chicago, it's good, but it really depends on non-motorized routes. The roads did not seem as bike friendly - very car-focused drivers. I did rent a Divvy to go a few miles from my hotel to McCormick Place, using the lake trails.

Washington DC, I was there for vacation with the family, much like Chicago, DC is focused on non-motorized routes. I got on the roads once or twice with the bike share bike (my wife hated being on the road with cars, but that's true where ever we are). We were around The Mall, didn't get to far from the tourist areas.

Houston, I was impressed to see the bike share there, didn't get to use a bike on this trip, but I don't think I'd like share those roads (too car-focused culture).

New York City, this appears to be a very good bike city, I was in mid-town around Time Square. I was on foot my whole time on this trip, but I would have been happy to rent a bike to get around NYC. I was also impressed that the bike share program was available in the winter - I was there for a good snow storm.

Minneapolis, my home town, I think Minneapolis is one of the best bike cities for commuters. It has a nice mix of non-motorized and on-road infrastructure. Riding on the roads, even major roads, is not terribly stressful.

Paris, France, great bike city, but I was not willing to get into that mix, I didn't feel I understood how to use the roads.

Tours, France, I did bike that city and it was the MOST WONDERFUL city I have ever biked (also the smallest city in my list).

Footnote, I don't like the dependence on non-motorized (rail-to-trails, side-paths, etc) routes for bikes because if I'm bike-commuting, I'm limited to places on the non-motorized routes. There's nothing wrong with it, however it should be matched with a good on-road environment to allow a person to get where they want to go. Non-motorized paths are great for recreational riding when your specific destination isn't as important.

My observations are fairly limited (admittedly), feel free to add more details with your personal experience, and add other cities you have been to (good or bad)
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Old 10-20-14, 01:51 PM
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For North America? Detroit is hands down my favorite. Wide streets, little traffic strong bike culture (think thousands of bikes for “slow roll” or “critical mass”, plenty of cool places to go on bikes, lots of bike manufacturers. I love it. Just don’t’ go to the suburbs (which is a bicycle nightmare).

Montreal gets good votes from me too. Good infrastructure for bikes, just makes it easier than other places.

Europe: Paris is a friggen nightmare any way you look at it. I like the challenge and the dynamics of it, but it is chaotic. Germany has tons of paths isolated from cars and is probably my top vote. And, its not as cold as the highly acclaimed northern countries.
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Old 10-20-14, 02:04 PM
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It's hard to compare cities in which I've lived with cities in which I've ridden while visiting. Route planning is key to a good urban cycling experience, and being local typically allows better route planning. I love riding in my current city, but much of that enjoyment comes from my familiarity with the roads and knowing the most bike appropriate routes to get from here to there. If I were passing through the city on tour, or just visiting the city, those aren't the roads I'd be riding on.

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Old 10-20-14, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by chas58 View Post
For North America? Detroit is hands down my favorite. Wide streets, little traffic strong bike culture (think thousands of bikes for “slow roll” or “critical mass”, plenty of cool places to go on bikes, lots of bike manufacturers. I love it. Just don’t’ go to the suburbs (which is a bicycle nightmare).
This is interesting to me, I've read this about the bike renascence in Detroit (& the Apple ad). I haven't been to Detroit in well over 5 years. It always hurts my head thinking about the Motor-City as the bike-city. But like I said, it's been a long time since I've been there, and most of my trips were to the auto companies the "nightmare" suburbs (our local office was in Sterling Heights).
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Old 10-20-14, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Jaywalk3r View Post
It's hard to compare cities in which I've lived and cities in which I've ridden while visiting. Route planning is key to a good urban cycling experience, and being local typically allows better route planning. I love riding in my current city, but much of that enjoyment comes from my familiarity with the roads and knowing the most bike appropriate routes to get from here to there. If I were passing through the city on tour, or just visiting the city, those aren't the routes I'd be riding on.
Good point, I guess you point out on my trips I'm more of a tourist (recreational) rider versus a commuter; I've been a commuting-tourist (?) I don't have good knowledge of the cities I'm riding and that does have a major affect on my comfort. With that said, based on my travels, I'd be happy riding on the street of San Fran than Chi-town.
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Old 10-20-14, 03:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Jaywalk3r View Post
It's hard to compare cities in which I've lived and cities in which I've ridden while visiting. Route planning is key to a good urban cycling experience, and being local typically allows better route planning. I love riding in my current city, but much of that enjoyment comes from my familiarity with the roads and knowing the most bike appropriate routes to get from here to there. If I were passing through the city on tour, or just visiting the city, those aren't the routes I'd be riding on.
It is weird how much better Detroit is than the suburbs (where people just run you off the road), and weird how a group rides that may have had 20 people on it a year ago now have thousands of riders. Its great to see the city come back to life, and to have bikes play a role.
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Old 10-20-14, 03:35 PM
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Old 10-22-14, 02:03 PM
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I want to live in Copenhagen or Groningen. Or at least I want to visit them one day.

Bicycling Magazine rated New York as #1 in the US. We New Yorkers shrieked with laughter and asked if this is as good as it gets. But to be fair, it has gotten pretty good, in as much as it's possible here. It's a tough and chaotic place. It always has been and always will be. It is hard to describe New York as anything-friendly. I can think of lots of nice adjectives for New York, but friendly isn't one of them. I'm not saying people here are not nice. We actually are. But gentle? No.
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Old 10-22-14, 02:57 PM
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Fort Worth is the only city I've commuted in in the last 20 years. It's.... okay, if your commute distance isn't too far. For me it's kinda too far to commute frequently (16 miles each way is do-able but I don't have the extra time in my day; my dogs really really really need to go outside as soon as I can drive home). Pluses are the Trinity Trails MUP which, if you live/work near the river, is like a bicycle superhighway; and the fact that there are a lot of areas where you can ride through residential neighborhoods that parallel the major arterials; and in the downtown and close-in areas there are good for bike lanes (and getting better). On the minus side, the infrastructure in the outer sprawl is very car-centric. Though new neighborhoods are starting to include plans for bicycle use but there are about 30 years of neighborhoods where bicycles weren't even a consideration. And the drivers aren't particularly friendly if a bike slows them up (it's basically safe but not very cordial), plus in the summer it's freakin' hot.
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Old 10-22-14, 02:58 PM
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Originally Posted by chas58 View Post
It is weird how much better Detroit is than the suburbs (where people just run you off the road), and weird how a group rides that may have had 20 people on it a year ago now have thousands of riders. Its great to see the city come back to life, and to have bikes play a role.
Sounds awesome. I lived in the Detroit area for a while in the '90s; I'd love to see it now.
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Old 10-22-14, 03:05 PM
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I've commuted in three cities: Denver, Tucson and El Paso. Denver and Tucson both have a lot of bicycle infrastructure, and El Paso as a community is pretty much ambivalent towards cyclists. My favorite of the three, by far, is El Paso. ELP just lets me ride. No politics, no anti-bike sentiment, not many "special bike lanes", just miles of roads and plenty of sunshine.
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Old 10-22-14, 03:24 PM
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I like here , having retired , Columbia River view is out 3 windows .

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Old 10-22-14, 06:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Doohickie View Post
Sounds awesome. I lived in the Detroit area for a while in the '90s; I'd love to see it now.
Uh, yeah, it was a lot, lot different in the '90s.

Here is an interesting video about Detroit bike culture that was just posted by Autoblog of all things:

Detroit Bike Culture | Translogic - YouTube
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Old 10-22-14, 07:18 PM
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I only have commuting experience in one city, Memphis. It's pretty good and getting better. I'm able to get around all over the place -- downtown, midtown, east Memphis, and out to the suburbs -- with no trouble once I figure out a good route. I use a greenline to get out to the burbs and city streets for everything else. I can usually plan a route that avoids the main arteries by wiggling around in residential areas. We're getting more and more bike lanes. One of the main roads that I use, Cooper, doesn't have bike lanes on the part I ride, but it is wide enough that cars give me plenty of space. On top of all of that, I've found most motorists to be very polite. I've been very pleasantly surprised by how easy the transition to using my bike as my main mode of transportation has been.
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Old 10-22-14, 08:02 PM
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Toronto was pretty cool but I also liked Los Angeles.
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Old 10-23-14, 10:54 AM
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As a commuter I have nothing to compare. Minnie has been my bike/work/family home for the last 20 years.

But, I am a believer in the adage that the best bike in the world is the one you are riding at any moment. So to that end i would argue that best bike commuting city is the one you're doing it in at any moment.

I also collect rainbows in a jar.
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Old 10-23-14, 11:02 AM
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I commute in DC. My ride is clear across the city, 9.5 miles each way. Of that distance, I only have to ride maybe a quarter mile combined with traffic. And all of that is on roads with sharrows, and has plans to be turned into part of a trail in the next couple years. The rest is all bike lanes, trails, and a bridge.
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Old 10-23-14, 11:20 AM
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My only personal bike commuting experience is in the DC area, and it's pretty good overall. Lots of MUPs leading into the city. Once on city streets though, it's a mess. Some of the worst traffic in the US, and fairly dangerous for cyclists.

Just as an example, earlier this week, in a 4 block section where I'm forced to ride on streets in Georgetown, I had to yell at a cab not to run me over, and three other cars made various dangerous and illegal maneuvers that I had to take evasive action to keep from being hit. If you know DC, it's the area from Key Bridge until you are on the CCT under Key Bridge. A cyclist's nightmare during rush hour.
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Old 10-23-14, 03:20 PM
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Kansas City is a decent bike commuting city, but there are not a lot of us. This has to be one of the most car-centric communities. Plenty of hills here too, but it makes for a good workout.
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Old 10-23-14, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Just as an example, earlier this week, in a 4 block section where I'm forced to ride on streets in Georgetown, I had to yell at a cab not to run me over, and three other cars made various dangerous and illegal maneuvers that I had to take evasive action to keep from being hit. If you know DC, it's the area from Key Bridge until you are on the CCT under Key Bridge. A cyclist's nightmare during rush hour.
How much crap are you hauling? If you're not fully loaded,I'd just cut through FSK park,cross the Canal,and take the steps down to Water Street. They recently added a set of rails on the lower steps for rolling bikes down.
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Old 10-23-14, 05:23 PM
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1 - Utrecht (hands down winner and blows away other NL cities imo)
2 - Amsterdam
9 - Copenhagen (very significant step down from previous two, but nothing I've experienced lies between. They're improving though)
12 - Frankfurt (surprisingly good and I was commuting from burbs to center)
35 - Minneapolis (best in the U.S. in my opinion but a very long way below most of Europe)
44 - San Francisco
45 - Boca Raton (just moved here and getting from our house to grocery, hardware, and restaurants is quite pleasant and fewer problems with drivers than other places we've lived in the U.S.)
80 - London

Brussels is somewhere way down at the bottom, perhaps #1256 . Absolutely awful and worse than most U.S. cities.

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Old 10-23-14, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by dynaryder View Post
How much crap are you hauling? If you're not fully loaded,I'd just cut through FSK park,cross the Canal,and take the steps down to Water Street. They recently added a set of rails on the lower steps for rolling bikes down.
I've used those new rails going up a few times in the morning, but in the evening, I'll either cross that bridge and ride the towpath to the tunnel stairs, or take the next bridge over, down to Water Street. However, the towpath has been pretty muddy in recent days, so not the best option. The stairs with the rails is an option going down, but kind of a pain, so I take my chances on the streets.
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Old 10-23-14, 11:57 PM
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My experience is not extensive, but:

1. Denver-Boulder is fabulous for bicycle commuting 9 months a year. The area has very decent infrastructure for bicycles, and even when you share streets with cars in vehicular cycling mode, the local culture is generally pretty tolerant. They do have winter, though, which means you need a plan B once in a while...

2. Seattle has mediocre bicycle infrastructure, but they're working on it. More importantly, there are very large numbers of cyclists here, the drivers are generally used to them, and almost everyone has learned to deal with a road environment where not everyone is in a car.

3. San Francisco is pretty much like Seattle, only the hills are steeper, it's more crowded, and bicycle parking is more limited. (Not as many bike racks as Seattle.)

4. Portland is nice, but, hype aside, isn't much better than most west coast cities. Outside of the central part of the city, it's actually a lot more hostile for bicycles than either Denver or Seattle.

5. LA: Not the best place for cyclists, but a whole lot better than you'd think. It might actually be better than most places in the US.

6. Berlin: It's not Copenhagen or Amsterdam by any stretch, but it still kicks a$$ on any place I've used a bicycle in the US. Its bicycle infrastructure is uneven and obviously pasted together haphazardly, but it's in place, everywhere, heavily used, and supported by traffic laws that support bicycling. It's also totally flat, which means you can ride in reasonably formal attire and not ever have to worry about sweating too much.
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Old 10-24-14, 12:38 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
I want to live in Copenhagen or Groningen. Or at least I want to visit them one day.

Bicycling Magazine rated New York as #1 in the US. We New Yorkers shrieked with laughter and asked if this is as good as it gets. But to be fair, it has gotten pretty good, in as much as it's possible here. It's a tough and chaotic place. It always has been and always will be. It is hard to describe New York as anything-friendly. I can think of lots of nice adjectives for New York, but friendly isn't one of them. I'm not saying people here are not nice. We actually are. But gentle? No.
You know, New York isn't that bad compared to a lot of other east coast cities. It's flat, the intersections are mostly predictable (only a few are insane), and they're on the leading edge of creative solutions to the tougher streets. I don't have a top commuting city, but I can understand NYC being near the top of the list. I've spent most of my time there in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and ironically found that I didn't need to go outside with the bike- the subway system there is probably the best in the country. Most of the rest of the big cities on the east coast are snarls with no better solutions than sharrows for their streets.

I've biked extensively in Portland (ME; a very pleasant but small town, just mind the cobblestones), the greater Boston area (snarly roads, not a square intersection in sight), NYC (as above), Philly (unmemorable); SF (only rideable because of the tight roads- drivers fear bikes and peds; bikes should fear peds), Oakland/Berkeley (a deathtrap), LA (Downtown/Echo park/Silverlake; pleasant when not packed with cars) and Sacramento (I don't have a personal favorite commute town, but this is near to it- it's flat, square, just the right size, and has a 35 mile multi use path completely separated from car-occupied roads, running through the middle of it like a giant artery).

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Old 10-24-14, 05:49 AM
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@Raiden, it's all true, what you say. Maybe it's just funny to call NYC anything-friendly. It's just such a tough place. I grew up here, and it has definitely gotten a ton better. I even have a little bit of a newcomer's perspective, since I was in NJ for half my life and came back last year. Definitely better in so many ways. The new bike infrastructure is something to be very happy about, and I don't get honked at on my bike as a result of the many folks on bike.
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