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10 Best American Cities For Cycling (PHOTOS)

Posted: 03/25/2012 12:06 pm

Pedaling through a major U.S. city is not just the province of daredevil bike messengers. With warmer weather and rising gas prices, there's never been a better time to hop on a bicycle, especially while you're on vacation.

"It's also a way to really be local," suggests Nicole Freedman, Director of Bicycling Programs for the city of Boston, "because when you bike you can stop wherever you want, you can talk to people."

Along with established or in-the-works bike shares, our Top 10 Cities for Cycling, all with populations over 100,000, feature an abundance of great rental shops, municipal bike racks, exciting trails, and dedicated bike lanes.

Katie Adamson of Visit Denver says that the 300,000 rides logged during the two-year (and counting) lifespan of Denver's bike-share program have translated into 13.5 million burned calories, a $990,000 savings on gas and parking, and 1.1 million pounds of greenhouse gases avoided. Yep, biking is good for our health, our pocketbooks, and our planet. And as you'll see in the photos below, it actually looks like fun.

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  • Chicago

    In his first year as mayor of America’s third largest metropolis, Rahm Emanuel laid out ambitious plans to “make <a href="" target="_hplink">Chicago</a> the most bike-friendly city in the country.” To that end, “Rhambo” has proposed a 500-mile network of bike paths, with at least one path within a half-mile of every Chicago resident. In the meantime, the city already boasts over 12,000 bike racks, more than any other U.S. city, and one of the best dedicated urban bike paths around: The 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail takes bikers through several popular parks and attractions, with sweeping skyline views around every bend. Several high-capacity bike parking areas are located throughout the city, including many of the city’s rail stations and at Millennium Park, where the state-of-the-art <a href="" target="_hplink">McDonald’s Cycle Center</a> even offers showers and lockers. And when it comes to bike-share programs, things have never looked brighter for the Windy City: A system launched in 2010 by <a href="" target="_hplink">Chicago B-cycle</a> consists of seven self-service bike rental stations at several popular Lakefront locations, and the city recently contracted with Alta Bicycle Share to make a whopping 3,000 bikes available at 300 solar-powered, self-service stations this summer. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 117 miles of on-street bike lanes, more than 30 miles of marked shared lanes, and dozens of miles of off-street paths (including the Lakefront Trail) <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> <a href="" target="_hplink">Bike and Roll Chicago</a> has been operating on Chicago's lakefront for 19 years at top Chicago destinations such as Millennium Park, Navy Pier, Wabash & Wacker (across from Trump Tower), North Avenue Beach, and historic Hyde Park (President Obama's neighborhood). Rates for one of their new Trek models start at $10/hour and $35/day (save $5 on the daily rate by booking online). The same company operates Chicago B-cycle, with rates starting at $5/hour and increasing by $2.50 every half hour; after 4 hours, the $20/day rate applies. <strong>Try this Route</strong> “Though a bit off the standard tourist track, the Illinois Institute of Technology has world-class architecture that definitely makes a worthwhile visit…” suggests Jeremy Rothschild, director of marketing for Chicago B-cycle. “The campus boasts several buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe, Rem Koolhaas, and Helmut Jahn.” From Grant Park, travel south along the Lakefront Trail and make a right at East 31st Street, then continue a mile to the IIT campus, home of two B-cycle bike-share stations. Photo: City of Chicago/GRC

  • Austin

    Home to seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, <a href="" target="_hplink">Austin</a> is a bike lover’s mecca: The city estimates that more than 6,000 people ride bikes here each day. The Lance Armstrong Bikeway will soon connect East and West Austin with a dedicated bike path for the first time (4.6 miles of the planned 6-mile path is now complete), and the Barton Creek Greenbelt offers a 7-mile mountain biking trail right in the heart of the city. These are just two of the reasons Austin is recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Cyclists. “The city has earned this prestigious spot by excelling in bicycle education, evaluation, and enforcement,” says Steve Alberts, communications manager at the Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Austin is the only city in Texas to earn this recognition.” Thanks to a recent partnership between the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Armstrong’s Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, Austin’s bike-share program will launch in 2013 with 450 bikes located at kiosks in downtown and East Austin. For now, temporary bike-share programs are available during special events like the annual SXSW festival in March. And if you don’t have a bike and have trouble hailing a cab after the bars close, hop onto one of the city’s numerous pedicabs. “Drivers work for tips, and can point out the coolest nightspots,” says Alberts. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 155 miles of bike lanes and 170 miles of off-road, multi-use trails <strong>Rent a Bike </strong> Austin offers a slew of savvy bike shops, including <a href="" target="_hplink">Mellow Johnny’s</a> (rates start at $20 for four hours) or <a href="" target="_hplink">Barton Springs Bike Rental</a> (rates start at $7.50 per hour), which also offers bike tours of Austin ($35 for two hours). <strong>Try this Route </strong> Take a spin around Lady Bird Lake (known to locals as Town Lake), a reservoir on the Colorado River that runs through downtown Austin, offering 10 miles of trails. Photo: Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau

  • Boston

    Not long ago, Beantown was often cited as one of the worst cities for biking. Dismayed by the unsavory title, Mayor Tom Menino started the <a href="" target="_hplink">Boston Bikes</a> initiative in 2007 headed by former Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman. In the past five years, <a href="" target="_hplink">Boston</a> has created over 50 miles of bike lanes (up from just 60 yards), installed 2,500 bike parking spaces and 850 bike racks, and established numerous city-wide programs to promote cycling and bike safety. The city recently ranked number one in the country for safety for bikers and pedestrians by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, and carries silver-level status as a bike-friendly community from the League of American Bicyclists. The <a href="" target="_hplink">New Balance Hubway</a> bike-share program debuted in summer 2011, garnering 100,000 rides in the first 10 weeks. In 2012, Hubway plans to expand into neighboring Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline, and hopes to add even more stations in Boston proper. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 52.2 miles of bikeways <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> The Hubway bike-share system – with over 600 bikes and 61 stations – costs $5 for one day or $12 for three days. The first half-hour of your ride is free; then it’s an additional $2 for up to an hour, $6 for up to 90 minutes, and $14 for up to 2 hours of riding. <strong>Try This Route</strong> “I think a hidden gem is Harborwalk,” says Nicole Freedman, Director of Bicycling Programs for the City of Boston. “It’s a stunning view of the city. Absolutely stunning.” Photo: City of Boston

  • Denver

    “Biking is a great way to explore Denver,” says Katie Adamson, a public relations coordinator at Visit Denver. “Visitors can take a B-cycle to almost every major attraction in the city.” The B-cycle bike-share program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, provides access to the riverfront, the Denver Botanic Gardens, City Park, downtown shopping areas, and the Golden Triangle museum district. The weather is great for cycling, too, with blooming trees and flowers in the spring, <a href="" target="_hplink">community bicycle events</a> in the summer, and abundant fall foliage (B-cycle stations are closed from December to March). <a href="" target="_hplink">Denver</a> has the added bonus of being 30 miles from Boulder, another great bike-friendly city. Denver’s smaller, outdoor-loving neighbor has its own, more extensive B-cycle share program and hundreds of miles of downtown bike lanes and mountain biking trails. Even the <a href="" target="_hplink">USA Pro Cycling Challenge</a>, a year-old professional bike race on par with Tour de France, deems both cities excellent for biking. The seven-day race begins in southwestern Colorado, travels through several Rocky Mountain towns, including Boulder, and ends dramatically with a time-trial finish in downtown Denver. Free for spectators, the 2012 challenge will be held from August 20-26. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 850 miles of off-street paved trails, plus hundreds of miles of bike lanes and dirt trails <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> The base day rate at <a href="" target="_hplink">Denver B-cycle</a> bike share starts at $8, with reasonable usage fees accruing after the first 30 minutes: $1 for 30-60 minutes after checkout and $4 for each additional 30 minutes. You can pick up and drop off your B-cycle at any of the 52 stations around town. <strong>Try this Route</strong> The Cherry Creek Bike Path, which is lined with cherry blossoms in the spring and includes the Cherry Creek Shopping District as well as Castlewood Canyon State Park and the Cherry Creek State Recreation Area. Photo: VISIT DENVER

  • Minneapolis/St. Paul

    The Twin Cities emergence as a bike-friendly superstar coincided with a general plan to make the area more livable. “Fifteen years ago almost no one lived downtown,” says Bill Dossett, executive director of the Nice Ride bike-share program. Now, downtown apartments have some of the highest occupancy rates around, a new light rail line will connect downtown <a href="" target="_hplink">Minneapolis</a> with the University of Minnesota and downtown St. Paul, and <em>Bicycling Magazine</em> calls Minneapolis the best biking city in the country. Launched two years ago, Nice Ride had over 100,000 rides in 2010 and over 217,000 rides in 2011; rentals will start again for 2012 sometime in the spring. Currently there are 116 stations and 1,200 bicycles, with plans to add 30 new stations – mostly in downtown St. Paul – and 128 more bikes this year. The cities host bike-themed events “almost every weekend,” says Dossett, from scavenger hunts to organized rides to cycling races. In 2011 alone, Minneapolis added 37 miles of bikeways, installed hundreds of bike-specific street signs, and created a citywide bike map for the first time. “All of these things are happening at the same time that we’ve made this great investment in the last five years,” says Dossett. “You bring all of that together and I think our future is very bright.” <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 81 miles of on-street bikeways and 85 miles of off-street bikeways <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> A 24-hour subscription to the <a href="" target="_hplink">Nice Ride</a> bike-share program costs $6, after which you can ride for free for the first 30 minutes. Fees are $1.50 for up to an hour, $4.50 for up to 90 minutes, and $6 for each additional half hour after that. <strong>Try This Route</strong> For visitors staying near the Convention Center, cruise down the Nicollet Mall then head over to the river and across the Stone Arch Bridge, a pedestrian- and bike-only bridge with a view of the St. Anthony Falls. “That’s just a great route to see the Old Mill District, to see the new Guthrie Theater, to see the river, and to see downtown from the Nicollet Mall,” says Dossett. Photo: Nice Ride MN

  • New York City

    Conventional wisdom holds that biking in car-clogged <a href="" target="_hplink">New York City</a> is a fool’s errand best personified by the plucky bike messenger weaving in and out of Midtown traffic, not always successfully. It’s true that two-wheeling it in Manhattan is a giddy experience, but those jolts of adrenaline can be meted out safely thanks, in part, to the city’s recent bike boom. Developing the country’s first bike path in 1894, stretching over five miles from Prospect Park to Coney Island via Brooklyn’s Ocean Parkway, New York City has long welcomed bikers with its relatively flat terrain and dense urban proximities. Since 1993, the city has created over 100 miles of car-free greenways linking parks and communities in all five boroughs, and over the past four years 260 miles of bike lanes have been added. Ridership has increased 20 percent over the last decade, with the NYC Department of Health estimating that over a half million New Yorkers now ride bikes. What’s next? An extensive <a href="" target="_hplink">bike-share system</a> from Alta Bicycle Share will open this summer with 600 stations and 10,000 bikes in Manhattan and <a href="" target="_hplink">Brooklyn</a>. “Once the stations and bikes are in place it’s just a matter of time before the word spreads that, if used correctly, bike sharing can be the fastest, cheapest, and most fun way to get around town,” says Brogan Graham of Alta Bicycle Share. Riders will be able to walk up to any station, swipe a credit card at the solar powered terminal, and get on the go. <strong>Bikeable Miles </strong> 260 miles of bike lanes and 100+ miles of car-free greenways <strong>Rent a Bike </strong> Until the bike-share program kicks off, try <a href="" target="_hplink">Hudson Urban Bicycles</a>, conveniently located just a block from the Hudson River Parkway in the West Village. Cruisers, hybrids, and mountain bikes can be rented at $5/hour or $30/day on weekdays and $7/hour and $35/day on weekends. Free bikes are offered to guests at many city hotels, including the <a href="" target="_hplink">Bowery Hotel</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">the Jane</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">James Hotel</a>, the Nolitan, and the Maritime, among others. <strong>Try this Route</strong> “I still love crossing any of the bridges over into Brooklyn,” says Graham. “The return back over is also exciting; it never gets old. Family members in Harlem always love to push the path along the West Side Highway. Calm, safe, relaxing – some days that can be the perfect pedal fix.” We also recommend participating in the city’s <a href="" target="_hplink">Summer Streets</a> program, when nearly seven miles of streets, from Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, are closed to automobile traffic and opened for biking and walking on three consecutive Saturdays in August. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Co

  • Portland, OR

    It makes sense that a city with the highest percentage of bicycle commuters, according to the U.S. Census, would also be a great bike city for travelers. Serious cyclers will notice as soon as they touch down at PDX and head to the on-site airport bike assembly station. More casual bikers might observe that Portland drivers behave a bit differently than back home: “Everyone who visits will notice that cars will stop in the middle of the road for you,” says Todd Roll, owner of Pedal Bike Tours. <a href="" target="_hplink">Portland</a> is one of only three cities nationwide (and the only one with a population over 200,000) to be designated at the platinum level for bike-friendly communities by the League of American Bicyclists. The city has 80 on-street bicycle parking corrals (with space for 10-20 bikes each), and numerous resources for mapping your route, both in paper form and online. Plans are moving forward for a bike-share program to launch in early 2013. An ambitious citywide initiative will increase the bikeable network to nearly 1,000 miles of bikeways by 2030, as well as expand bike parking options, update street signs, and promote bike safety and education so that Portland continues to be as bike-friendly as possible. “We may be number one in North America, but we’re laughable compared to Europe or Asia,” says Roll. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 318 miles of bikeways, including bike lanes, greenways, paved park paths, and cycle tracks <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> There are over a dozen shops that rent cycles, from vintage wheels to tandem bicycles to mountain bikes. Try <a href="" target="_hplink">Portland Bicycle Tours</a> ($5 for 1 hour) or <a href="" target="_hplink">Pedal Bike Tours</a> ($8 for 1 hour) for low-cost rentals and fun guided rides throughout the city. <strong>Try This Route</strong> “The very first place that we send people from the shop when they rent bikes is the Eastbank Esplanade riverfront loop,” says Roll. “Those are beautiful, scenic, natural rides.” Photo: Travel Portland

  • San Francisco

    <a href="" target="_hplink">San Francisco</a> is one of the most popular biking cities in the country. “Biking is a great way to discover the hidden corners of the city and travel like a local,” says Kristin Smith, the Communications Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “San Francisco is a compact city, with an extensive bicycle route system, most of which avoid our famous San Francisco hills.” In fact, in the last five years the number of people biking in the city has increased by 71 percent. With over 200 miles of routes and more added all the time (17 miles of bike lanes just last year), plus plenty of bicycle parking racks, spaces, and garages, it’s no wonder that the bike-obsessed City by the Bay is so often explored on two wheels. What’s more, the year-round mild temperatures make for great biking weather (although watch out for winter rains). The best time for biking is on Sunday mornings for <a href="" target="_hplink">Sunday Streets</a> events, when different neighborhood streets are closed to cars to encourage biking, walking, and free yoga and tai-chi group events. San Francisco also has a public bike-share program in the works that is set to launch in pilot form this summer (vendor still to be decided), so look out for the first of the SFMTA-provided bike rentals in the downtown area. San Francisco hopes to eventually have 500 bikes at 50 stations, plus 500 more bikes in other Bay Area cities. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 200+ miles of designated bike routes <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> A bike-share program is in the works, but for now you can rent bikes from <a href="" target="_hplink">Parkwide Bike Rentals and Tours</a>, a service similar to a bike share but with rental locations in the city parks only. Visitors can pick up a bike in one park and drop it off in another, with rates starting at $14/hour. <strong>Try this Route</strong> Bike the <a href="" target="_hplink">Golden Gate Bridge</a> and Golden Gate Park, which has paths on both sides of the bridge and which is closed to vehicles on Sundays, leaving it completely open to bikers and pedestrians. Photo: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition

  • St. Petersburg, FL

    The <a href="" target="_hplink">Sunshine State</a> isn’t generally known to be bike-friendly, but efforts are being made in certain cities to make two-wheeled transportation easier, safer, more frequent, and more fun. St. Petersburg’s hard work is particularly notable, and as St. Pete’s Director of Transportation Joe Kubicki states, “Our relatively flat terrain, temperate climate, and great cycling infrastructure with plenty of trails and road facilities make it an excellent choice for visitors.” Indeed, St. Pete is striving to make the city better for biking all the time. Since 2006, it has been designated a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists, and have been working to raise their status, from providing more bike parking to connecting the recreational trails and street lanes. You can already enjoy the beautiful waterfront parks and beaches as well as the popular downtown shopping areas by bike, and with the coming myBike bike-share program (designed and funded by St. Pete residents, and based on NYC’s coming Social Bicycles technology), biking will be even easier for area visitors. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 35 miles of bike trails and 75 miles of on-street bike lanes <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> St. Pete’s bike-share program, <a href="" target="_hplink">myBike</a>, is set to launch on July 4th with 500 bikes. In the meantime, you can rent from <a href="" target="_hplink">ABC Bicycles</a> or its sister store, <a href="" target="_hplink">Trek Bicycle Store</a>; rates start at $30/day for one bike or $25/day for two or more. <strong>Try this Route</strong> The <a href="" target="_hplink">Pinellas Trail</a> stretches 47 miles from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. It spans an abandoned railroad corridor through parks and along coastal areas, oak glades, waterways, and tidal streams. The downtown St. Pete portion of the Pinellas passes Rail Switch Park, the Morean Arts Center for Clay (in the Historic Seaboard Train Station), and Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo: City of St. Petersburg

  • Washington, D.C.

    As the first major U.S. city to implement a bike-share program, <a href="" target="_hplink">Washington, D.C</a>. is ideal for bikers. Even politicians making the trip from Capitol Hill to the White House can opt for pedal power thanks to new bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue. In recent years, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has created nearly 50 miles of new bike lanes and installed over 1,000 bike racks throughout the metropolitan area. Whether you’re commuting from the suburbs of <a href="" target="_hplink">Maryland</a> or Virginia into downtown D.C., or a tourist who wants to cruise down the Mall and past the cherry blossoms, the nation’s capital has a plentitude of trails and bike lanes. Capital Bikeshare, the country’s first bike-share program, is open year-round, 24 hours a day, with 140 stations and over 1,200 bikes. “Bike sharing has transformed transportation in D.C.,” says James Sebastian, Supervisory Transportation Planner at the DDOT. “People can make one-way bike trips without worrying about what to do with their bike on the next trip of their day.” For those with either their own or rented bikes, <a href="" target="_hplink">Bikestation Washington D.C.</a>, located near Union Station, offers indoor bike parking facilities, restrooms and showers, lockers, bike repair stations, easy access to public transportation, and bike rentals. <strong>Bikeable Miles</strong> 109 miles of trails, bike lanes, and cycle tracks <strong>Rent a Bike</strong> Visit the <a href="" target="_hplink">Capital Bikeshare website</a> to search for bike kiosks before you travel – then pick up a bike and get going. After an initial membership fee ($7 for 24 hours or $15 for 3 days) it’s free for the first 30 minutes; rates start at $2 for one hour, and $6 for 90 minutes. <strong>Try This Route</strong> Pick up a bike in Georgetown and then bike along the Potomac River on the C&O Canal path all the way to Great Falls, Maryland, for a glimpse at the juxtaposition of urban Georgetown and the beautiful, natural falls. Sebastian suggests Rock Creek Park, the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac River in Virginia, and bikeable neighborhoods like Shaw, Capitol Hill, and Dupont Circle. Photo: DDOT DC


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