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Why Minneapolis was voted the most bike-friendly city in America

Step aside, Copenhagen.
Step aside, Copenhagen.
William Perugini/Shutterstock

When we think about bicycle-friendly cities, we usually think of Northern Europe — Copenhagen, Helsinki, Amsterdam — and happy people two-wheeling around on cobblestone streets.

But in the US Midwest, Minneapolis has built some serious bike infrastructure of its own:

Minneapolis's beautiful bike highways. (via Midtown Greenway)

The photo shows the "bikeways" of Minneapolis, recently named one of the 20 most-bikeable cities in the world — and the only city in America to feature on the global listing.

Back in 2000, Minneapolis began converting some of its out-of-use railroad infrastructure into bike highways. The city now has 118 miles of what locals call "on-street bikeways" and 92 miles of "off-street bikeways," like the one pictured above.

"America — often content with baby steps — is in desperate need of leadership cities and Minneapolis has emerged as a contender," remarked the authors of the bike-friendly world index at the Copenhagenize Design Company.

You can read about the methodology behind the ranking here. (It focuses on features like a strong bicycle infrastructure, bike-share programs, and safety.) It should also be noted, however, that this ranking isn't the last word on the subject: Other cities in America, such as Portland, San Francisco, and Denver, often compete with Minneapolis for the top spot as most cycle-friendly in national rankings.

Minneapolis is trying to combat the decline of biking

Decades of research have found that bike-friendly cities are often healthier and more livable for urbanites. Cycling is also an environmentally friendly alternative to cars or buses — a great way to get around without harming the environment.

Still, you need to do more than just build infrastructure to get people to bike. Even in Minneapolis, only about 5 percent of residents use bikes to get around. (That's higher than the nationwide average of 1 percent, but it's much smaller than places like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, where closer to half of commuters cycle.) The people behind the Copenhagenize global ranking consider social acceptance, a strong bike culture, and cycle-friendly politics as keys to building more bikeable cities — enthusiasm that may be lacking in some corners of America.

In the United States, bicycle sales have been dropping since 2000 — a trend that's mirrored globally. A new study in the Journal of Transport & Health, by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that the proportion of global households that own bikes has been declining for decades.