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Does your city and state stack up?

Ever want to know how your city and state stack up compared to others in levels of bicycling and walking? Or which state has the lowest rate of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities? Or how your state’s laws treat bicyclists compared to others? If so, you don’t want to miss Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2010 Benchmarking Report from the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking (formerly Thunderhead Alliance). There’s a ton of useful information here for state and local advocates, researchers, and numbers-oriented cyclists. It is an ambitious project – gathering existing data on bicycling and walking – and adding original survey data. It is also a beautiful product. The PDF download is free, but get your hands on a hardcopy if you can.

The Benchmarking report provides information on programs and statistics for the 50 states, as such it is good companion to the League’s state ranking – see the Bicycle Friendly State Rankings by category. It also includes some graphs that illustrate some key correlations.

Let’s start with the obvious. The share of bicycling and walking to work in a state is strongly correlated with the share of the adult population that gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. The percent of people that walk and bike to work is still small compared to the populations that meet these minimums, so rather than concluding causation, it appears that the factors that impact bicycling levels – policies, infrastructure, land use, culture – also impact overall physical activity. The commuters who are walking and biking to work probably help the physical activity numbers as well.


Speaking of land use, on average, cities with higher densities have higher levels of bicycling and walking. New Orleans is a notable outlier on the right side of the graph with a high bike/walk mode share and (currently) low density. You could spend a day thinking about the individual cases, but the overall pattern holds up well statistically (r=0.67).


Now it is excuse-busting time. Notice that when I listed the factors that influence bicycling and walking levels above, I didn’t mention weather. That’s because weather doesn’t appear to matter as much as people would often like to believe. You may already know that the hardy folks in Canada bicycle more than those of in the county immediately to their south.  The Benchmarking researchers compared bicycling levels to average summer and winter temperatures and didn’t find any statistically significant results. Alaska, for example, posts a significantly higher bicycling mode share than states like Arkansas, North Carolina, Delaware, and Missouri. Cold states such as Minnesota, Idaho, Montana and Maine also manage relatively high mode shares.


Finally, the report includes another safety in numbers-style graph. Often you see these graphs for one city with an increasing bicycling rate and decreasing crash rate over time, or they will compare European cities. This graph presents a cross-sectional look at the fifty U.S. states and fatalities per 10,000 cyclists. Again, you can see that, on average, states with higher rates of cycling have lower fatality rates.


These are just a few examples of the topics covered in the report. I’ve been thinking of the proper analogy to describe the benchmarking report. The Farmer’s Almanac comes to mind. But a book of baseball statistics may be a better analogy. If you were to start a bike-friendly fantasy league, like the baseball and football fantasy leagues out there, this would be your go-to resource. Consider it, you and your friends draft cities that you think will most improve on their bike-to-work mode share in the next year. Is Portland, Ore. going to continue its growth? Is Nashville, Tenn. set to have a breakout year? The Benchmarking report offers a complete look at the state of bicycling in each of the United States and could hold that statistical nugget that will lead your fantasy bicycle-friendly community team to victory. But I digress…Be one of the hundreds who have downloaded the full Benchmarking Report.

Thank you to Kristen Steele of the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking for the Jpegs.

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