Coasting in at No. 2

It’s official. Portland has lost its rank as the number one bike-friendly city in America to Minneapolis, Minn.

It’s official. Portland has lost its rank as the number one bike-friendly city in America to Minneapolis, Minn.

Bicycling Magazine‘s newest ranking shows Portland sliding into second after holding a first place slot since 1995. The rankings considered such factors as bike lanes, bike racks, bike boulevards, bike culture and bike shops.

This news has started something of a biking rivalry between the two cities, but the amenities each offers are vastly different, rendering direct comparisons ineffectual. Having lived and biked in both cities, I can honestly say I like aspects of each and I myself find it hard to choose one over the other.

Biking around Portland’s many bike lanes and small city streets is quite relaxing, and you might forget you are in the core of a major metropolitan area. The bike lanes are easy to follow and although they are somewhat erratic in areas, overall they are amazingly well connected. This is great, especially if biking is your main mode of transportation.

The off-road trail system in Minneapolis is incredible. There is what some would call a bike freeway stretching about five miles through the heart of the city—complete with exit ramps. As you bike through the city on trails along the old railway corridor, you get to see things from a “non-storefront” perspective, which is cool, and you can get downtown from just about anywhere in the city and many of the suburbs.

There are five lakes within the Minneapolis city limits, all with bike trails around them and all connected to the major network of trails, so if you bike for leisure, or work downtown, this trail system really takes the cake.

Motorists in Portland are much more bike-friendly than they are in Minneapolis. Most of them are aware to watch for bikes and don’t blow past bikers while honking and revving up their engines. There are even questions on Oregon’s driving test regarding bikes. This is probably because bikes have been such a presence on the streets here for so long. Minneapolis has definitely not caught up with Portland in this regard, and since so much of the riding there is done on trails, they might never catch up.

Oregon had three cities make it on the list, with Eugene coming in at number five and Salem at number 19. There is no doubt that Oregon has an established biking culture with Portland leading the way.

Bicycling Magazine’s editor-in-chief Loren Mooney told, “It isn’t so much that Portland has lost its edge, but that other cities are following in our footsteps.”

 She also said they were looking at intangible things such as the improving momentum of bike culture in Minneapolis and the “winter riding spirit” the cyclists there have embraced.

Many Pacific Northwesterners assume that bikes are stored all winter in harsh weather states like Minnesota, but the people get snow tires and tough it out in temperatures that plunge below zero. You’ve got to hand it to them; they are crazy about biking to do that. 

Minneapolis, among other cities, received a federal grant to improve non-motorized transportation in 2005 and they are presently getting a brand new bike share program off the ground. This could be part of what has put them out in front of the ranking this year.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams recently approved a $600 million 2030 bike plan, and hopes that 20 percent of all commutes will be taken by bicycle in 20 years. This is a lofty goal and one that Minneapolis would probably never attempt, but with Portland’s local economy struggling, it might not be the right time for such an expensive project.

Sure, we need to keep up with cities that are catching up to our bike culture, but this is probably due to their efforts, not Portland’s lack of efforts, and many states have not been hit as hard by the recession as Oregon. Many of them are using federal money like Minneapolis did. It’s pretty hard to compete with that and maybe we shouldn’t be trying.

There are many different kinds of bikers in America—some who prefer what Portland has to offer with its wonderful bike lanes and weather which permits most non-crazy people to ride all year. Other bikers might prefer the leisurely summer and insane winter biking that Minneapolis has to offer. Direct comparisons of the two are a stretch. Maybe Portland has held the title too long and it is time to share the spotlight. Bikers in both cities should just be happy that their lifestyle is growing in America.