clock menu more-arrow no yes

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.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.