Citing bike share and bike lane innovation, Bicycling Magazine names Seattle the #1 bike city in the U.S.

From Bicycling Magazine. See the full list.

Bicycling Magazine has named Seattle the “best bike city in America.” Seattle typically places fairly high on the magazine’s list, which is based on editorial judgment and comes out every two years. But Seattle has not been picked as the top city in a long time (Zosha Millman at the Seattle PI reports that the last time Seattle won was 1990).

So what put Seattle over the top this time? Well, the magazine has a whole list of reasons, including the city’s recent high-quality downtown bike lanes, the city’s role in private bike share innovation, the number of women who bike here, and our great cycling community.

The photos alone are worth checking it out (not to mention that yours truly was interviewed for the feature). I especially like the mini profiles at the end.

Seattle is an amazing place to get around by bike, and everyone out riding is doing so for their own reasons and finding joy in their own ways. Riding a bike is such an intimate way to get to know your city, and the same geography that makes Seattle challenging at times to navigate by bike also makes the city endlessly rewarding to explore.

Of course, Seattle has a lot of work to do, and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration has so far been putting the brakes on many of the qualities the Bicycling Magazine feature so admires about our city. Downtown bike lanes have been delayed. Other Vision Zero road safety projects have been extremely watered down or are under threat. And bike share innovation has seemingly stopped, with the number of companies operating down from three to just one and the city unwilling to try new ideas like scooters.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The city could easily modify its bike share permit to encourage innovation. And the city already has great plans and significant funding to make huge improvements to connect communities with a safe and inviting bike network. It just requires political will and leadership.

But it’s also important to simply enjoy the city, even if you know there is so much work to be done. Sure, this list might be very subjective and prone to big swings (the last city to claim the top spot, Chicago, is now down at number six), but it’s a good reminder that Seattle is a really special place. So get to know it a little bit better by riding a bike. 

From Bicycling Magazine:

Seattle ticks all the boxes on cyclists’ wish lists. Scratch that, the Emerald City doesn’t check the boxes, it crushes them. Crazy smart infrastructure? Definitely—you can ride a protected bike lane from the Space Needle nearly two miles to Pioneer Square, with features like bike-specific traffic lights to make your cruise even safer. The most passionate bike advocates in the country? Absolutely—elected leaders have actually taken DOT staffers to task for not building lanes fast enough. An awesome community? Of course—there are thousands of events throughout the city designed to satisfy any inclination a rider could have.

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38 Responses to Citing bike share and bike lane innovation, Bicycling Magazine names Seattle the #1 bike city in the U.S.

  1. Andres Salomon says:

    They ranked SF as #2? Yeah, right.

    • Eli says:

      Indeed. I think that alone pretty much establishes the toilet-paper level of merit of their ratings.

    • Southeasterner says:

      The safety ranking alone is comical. No American city should be even close to a score of 20 let alone 35 out of 40.

      Talk to any emergency room hospital staff in Seattle (or any other city in America) and ask them how safe biking is.

      Just because the cyclist or police don’t report collisions doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. But putting that aside the fact that we have multiple cyclist fatalities every year should prevent us from exceeding a score of 10.

  2. Fish says:

    While this list is always debatable, I applaud on them for picking up on the fact that more people are taking public transit and using the bike for the last mile in Seattle. What disappoints me is that we keep insisting on tracking how many bike as a “primary” commute mode versus how many people bike at any point during a given week. Anecdotally, I think Seattle has a much higher share of people that bike than we’re ever given credit.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Totally agree. I bike pretty much everywhere but never for commuting (work at home). I think there are a lot of people like me, to some degree, and we’re not counting them at all.

  3. Dave says:

    Unfortunately, these top rankings give city officials an excuse to not pursue further projects.

    The “low bar” meme is appropriate here.

  4. Tee says:

    Funny that Seattle is ranked #1 for the first time since 1990. On my bike everyday in this city and this must be a joke. In my opinion Seattle was way less stressful to ride in during the 90s. Even without all the painted bikes on the road. Cars were smaller and easier to maneuver around. Less a-holes on the road. I rarely was yelled at for riding along and minding my own business. Rider experience should be a factor in the ratings, as that is a significant influence as to whether a person chooses to ride or not. Clearly we need all this bike infrastructure because of population growth. However, in a past to present comparison it has not improved my biking experience.

    • Fish says:

      So it was less stressful to ride when you were 30 yrs younger and with 1M less people in the metro area? Never would have guessed that…

    • Mark says:

      How I understand this conversation:

      Tea says:
      1: In the 19990, cars were smaller and easier to maneuver around.
      2: Less a-holes on the road.
      3: Was rarely yelled at while riding
      4: Rider experience is an important consideration in ratings
      5: We currently need bike infrastructure because of population growth

      Fish’s takeaway:
      1: Tea enjoyed a less stressful ride when she was 30 years younger
      2: There were 1M fewer people in the metro area 30 years ago
      3: Sarcasm

      Tea’s comment is reasonable within her sphere of experience, and it deserved a substantive reply. The purpose of this blog is to advance transportation with a focus on biking. In the end, we will all benefit by supporting each other in our shared vision of a more livable city.

  5. Fish says:

    Sorry if you found my comment offensive. Personally, I’m just sick of hearing how everything was so much better before I moved here a 8 years ago. I’ve seen dramatic improvements in this city and especially its bike infrastructure. It’s FAR from perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m so thankful that I live in a city where people take cycling seriously. For once, can’t we Seattleites just be positive about something?

    • Andres Salomon says:

      No one’s blaming you for the decline (I mean, unless you’re parking in bike lanes. I hope not!). I moved here 8 years ago also, and I think biking (in terms of comfort and safety in Seattle) has declined in that time period.

      However, the huge caveat to that is that all of this stuff is very localized. If you live and work along the Westlake trail, then biking has likely gotten a LOT better for you. For a lot of folks, things have gotten worse. I no longer bike downtown, for example, despite some brand new PBLs – too many construction closures, and really bad detours and connections further north. Folks in South Seattle have seen virtually no improvements in the past ~5 years, despite the ambitious goals of the Bicycle Master Plan.

      • Fish says:

        I guess my main question is–do we feel less safe because of the new bike infrastructure or because of external factors like that we’re living in what’s often the fastest growing city in the country and with the extreme job growth downtown? I think being a “good” cycling city is such a low bar in this country–I just appreciate that Seattle seems to be trying harder than every other city I’ve lived in. You are right that it’s localized–8 years ago the ship canal trail didn’t extend under the ballard bridge and I used to count my blessings getting around it. Today, I’ve got a bike where I’m planning on putting my baby daughter on it in a carseat in a few months. I wouldn’t have even imagined doing that 8 yrs ago. Agreed that the infrastructure on the south side of the city is atrocious and I’ve never felt safe biking downtown.

      • Breadbaker says:

        Downtown had essentially no “no go” areas as it does now (the area around the Convention Center expansion, the waterfront, Fifth Avenue southbound, all places I wouldn’t have given a second thought to biking on in years past, are all incredibly uncomfortable to bike on. The city’s failure to make any accommodation for biking in most construction zones (a sign ten feet before a lane is closed telling you to merge with traffic is not an accommodation) and the lack of coordination of such zones (Dexter is a great example, and it’s not exactly a minor biking street) all have changed the landscape. That’s without taking into account how the increased traffic and politically motivated attack on the false “War on Cars” have made some drivers seek to play chicken with cyclists just for sport.

  6. Joseph Singer says:

    Why all the praise for bike share when all we have now for bike share is the more expensive Lime e-bikes. The other guys left town because of the fees the city decided to charge.

    • asdf2 says:

      The award may have been already decided, by the time that happened.

    • Law Abider says:

      If a for-profit company with millions of venture capital can’t survive without subsidies, they shouldn’t exist. Maybe somebody needs to step up with a non-profit, free floating bike share?

      • AW says:

        There is a difference between subsidizing the bike share company and taxing them out of business. And can you name one other transportation mode that isn’t subsidized ? Metro is heavily subsidized. Personal cars are also subsidized via road building and maintenance, free parking, let alone the uncounted costs of pollution. Amtrak has been kept in business by the federal government forever. Air travel – this I am not so sure about this but the federal government runs the air traffic control system and I doubt anyone reimburses them when a couple of F16 need to scramble if some yahoo decides to go on a joy flight.

        The point is that the city could have very well not taxed the bike share companies to the point where the city can assert that it isn’t costing the city money. Even if the bike share cost the city a little money, the point of the city is to spend that money for the common good. All of this is irrelevant since the real reason for the high taxes on bike share was not to be cost neutral. It was to push them out of the city.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        @AW: You may want to recall the recent politics. The city was just shamed with a giant failure of Pronto and now the pendulum has swung the other way.

        I think the city’s current objective is to not stir up negative press about supporting bike shares and, thus, they are doing their best to keep public subsidy out of the picture for now.

      • Law Abider says:


        King County Metro and Amtrak are not for=profit corporations. Roads are subsidized, but are free for use by everyone (I know, I know, you can’t walk or bike on interstates). Air Traffic is arguably paid for by fees on airplane tickets.

        None of those really compare to for-profit bikeshare. A better comparison would be Car2Go, which incurs pretty substantive fees and taxes. I don’t hear anyone lamenting that.

      • asdf2 says:

        Actually, I do have issues with the way Car2Go is taxed. It’s effectively hitting locals with taxes originally intended for visitors from out of state. The higher taxes means fewer trips you need to take to reach the “break even” point, where car ownership becomes cheaper than renting a car when you need one, which, in turn, encourages car ownership. Rental car taxes are also a boon to Lyft and Uber, which don’t collect them. At times, a trip can cost virtually the same price on carsharing as ridesharing, even though car sharing has no paid driver. A lot of the reason why is the taxes.

        Pronto was also taxed, back in the day it operated, with an $85 membership, costing about $93, after sales tax. I don’t know if the dockless bikeshare companies found away around it, or if sales tax is silently included in the price, so that the company only really gets $0.91 for each $1 ride. Even if we’re not willing to outright subsidize bikeshare, it seems the least we can do is to exempt it from sales tax.

      • RossB says:

        The tax was minimal. These companies were struggling because bike sharing is expensive. They were trying to succeed in the traditional (low end) bike share market. Lime is trying to survive in a high end market (dockless and electric). Lime is probably losing a lot of money right now, but will start charging more. Either that, or they believe that simply gathering data will earn them enough money. Companies that try that approach usually fail (Google is an exception, but they are huge).

        AW is right — everyone else in the country subsidizes their bikeshare. But their bikeshare is usually designed to serve the masses. Cheap, affordable bike sharing. That means docks, which are much easier and cheaper to balance. Balancing (making sure there are enough bikes in each area) is the most expensive part of running a bike sharing company.

        The original bike share for Seattle failed not because it had docks, but because there weren’t enough of them. Studies have shown that you need a high density of docks as well as a broad service area (although it doesn’t need to be a huge area) in order to be successful. Pronto was neither. The dockless options had more of both, which is why they have had a lot more riders. But without subsidies, they are bound to struggle. Either they will struggle making money, or struggle to provide something the average person can afford.

    • RossB says:

      The other guys left town because they got tired of losing money. The fee (which was pretty darn small) was just an excuse (and helpful as a signal to the next city they move to). Lime is no doubt losing money as well, but they are better funded, or figure they can carve out a higher priced option.

  7. Pat says:

    I’d rate Fort Collins higher, great lanes, great riding, and most importantly drivers seem to be more careful and focused around bikes.

  8. MARIA says:

    Nope, no way Seattle is the best. We left a year ago for DC and it blows Seattle out of the water with the bike lanes. Their bikeshare is 10 years old and hit 22 million rides. My commute to work is a lot less stressful here than it was in Seattle.

  9. Joseph Sundstrom says:

    This is nonsense, as long as Seattle continues to create and maintain the “death lanes”. These are painted lanes situated between auto traffic lanes and parked autos.
    Give Seattle cyclists the curb, or nothing at all.
    What cyclists need is dedicated streets for commuting, accessible to emergency vehicles only.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      “suicide” lanes :)

    • Breadbaker says:

      Parked autos are the least of it. Ubers and Lyfts along Sixth in front of Amazon who think the bike lane is theirs are the worst.

    • asdf2 says:

      I generally find it much more stressful to ride alongside parked cars, than to ride in a bike lane of the same width that’s up against the curb. Part of it is fear of being door’ed, but it is also the case that handlebars and car mirrors can stick out, and drivers can park and inch or two over the line, all narrowing the effective width of the bike lane, regardless of how it’s painted.

      I actively try to avoid riding in door-zone bike lanes, when possible. When it’s not possible, I will sometimes just take the traffic lane when traffic is light, just to get out of the door zone and have more space – especially when riding at a fast speed downhill (when the risk of being door’ed is greatest).

  10. AP says:

    “Top bicycling in the US” is a very low bar, kind of like “best truck stop pizzeria”.

  11. Dana says:

    This is a joke. I lived in Portland for 11 years and they are eons ahead of Seattle in terms of bicycle infrastructure. These people who wrote the article must have never ridden in Seattle downtown.

    Seattle doesn’t prioritize bikes over cars at all. Just look at Dearborn under construction right now, the 2nd Ave bike lane connection, and pretty much any bike lane outside of the BGT.

    Looking at the comments, it appears most people agree, which is saying something when the people from the City with the award are laughing.

  12. William says:

    The magazine is based in Pennsylvania so it is pretty clear that they are a low budget operation that couldn’t afford to send somebody to the West Coast to actually check cities out. In terms of making noise about bicycle infrastructure and bicycle friendliness, Seattle probably does seem quite good when viewed from afar.

  13. Brian Bothomley says:

    FWIW I just returned from almost two weeks visiting my daughter in Brooklyn. NY and I rode almost every day. I felt safer riding there than in Seattle! They have loads of bike lanes and protected bike paths all over the place. The drivers are used to lots of bike riders and give you some space. There are lots of bike riders however one has to look out for the delivery guys on eBikes that ride like the wind and often go in the wrong direction. People have a different attitude to traffic in the NY area. Pedestrians and cyclists cross everywhere on a red light if there is no traffic and many streets are one way so that makes it easier to see where the traffic is, cops rarely give tickets for jay walking.
    I went into Manhattan twice on foot and noticed loads of people on bikes, many using CityBike bikes. And I even talked to one of the CityBike directors at Industry City in Brooklyn about the new eBike prototypes that they are testing, very impressive.
    All in all I think that Seattle has a long way to go to get to the point where lots of people are comfortable with riding a bike in the city.

    • asdf2 says:

      It does feel as though the attitude of drivers on the road in Seattle has gotten worse lately. Enough that I sometimes actually feel safer riding in Bellevue (at least during the daytime). The bike lanes are often lacking, but the drivers seem more courteous, which goes a long way.

  14. pqb says:

    Not to pile on too much more, but the overall Seattle bicycling logistic has deteriorated in many ways over the last few years. Many site downtown, and rightly so, due to the new construction and subsequent disruption to streets and sidewalks.

    However, overall hostility toward pedestrians and cyclists only seems to be increasing. I would be happy with simple enforcement, but one will probably die farting waiting for that particular American rage-entitlement ever to subside.

    As for infrastructure improvements, I am still a bit baffled at many of the new implementations…I will avoid the two-way street PBLs unless I have no alternative; likewise, most of the multi-use paths lack decent two-way traffic management but at least they do not have motor vehicles turning across your path and such. Even the one-way PBLs seem a bit haphazard. For frustrating examples, I find the section on Roosevelt ‘tween 45th and the U-Bridge treacherous. So much so that I often take the street until I can access the bridge deck at 40th. Too many threats from the right compounded by too much road furniture to the left, i.e. little chance at escaping calamity.

    All that being said, I am glad the more recreational type routes are getting their due improvements. Should you be so lucky as to avail yourself of such for your commute, enjoy.

  15. John says:

    I left Seattle for 10 years and then came back, now I’m living on the Eastside. I rode everywhere 10 years ago when I was in Seattle and it has gotten far better – the reduced traffic speeds is a huge deal. I suppose the caveat is there seem to be far more bikers. If only the east side could be that good. I also lived in and around Boulder, and although Boulder proper is much better for bike riding it’s much much smaller and it could get pretty sketchy once you left the city limits.

    • asdf2 says:

      Improving things on the eastside is going to tricky – many corridors, there is simply no room to build bike facilities without either taking space away from cars (which would great significant traffic delays) or widening the entire street (which would likely require eminent domain on adjacent properties).

      The good news is, at least drivers seem courteous, and many of the arterial streets have enough stoplights to keep the car speeds in check

  16. mark smith says:

    DO Durkin and trump have weekly conference calls…like Pinky and the Brain?

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