Angie and Kate have posted about the Great Lakes Urban Exchange’s “I Will Stay If …” campaign a few times here; and as I was leafing through some of their photos recently, I noticed a number of references to bicycle unfriendliness of some of the Rust Belt cities.
With the Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey data now available, I took a look at what the numbers look like throughout the Rust Belt. I should note that I used only core-city geography data, so the comparisons are not completely fair, given the arbitrary nature of political boundaries, but I think they are reasonable enough for this sake of this comparison.
The purple bars show the proportion of commuters who cite a bicycle as their primary source of commuting. The green bars show the number of bicyclists divided by the squared area (excluding water) of the city. Although similar, they give a little different perspective.
The best place for a bicyclist in the Rust Belt is probably Philadelphia. Having biked in Philly over the summer, I can speak from experience that they have done a good job promoting cycling. Erie has a slightly higher proportion of cyclists than Philly, but a smaller total number. On the other end of the spectrum, Detroit, Toledo, Akron, Dayton and Cincinnati all have pretty dismal numbers. I haven’t biked in any of those places, so hopefully someone who has can comment on whether the numbers reflect the reality.
Nevertheless, even the best cities in the Rust Belt have a long way to go to catch up to the best overall bicycling cities in America (which have a long way to go to catch up to the best bicycling cities in Europe, but I digress). Rust Belt bicyclists might feel a little more at home in a place like Portland (6.0% / 130), Seattle (2.9% /117), Minneapolis (4.3% /150), or Washington, DC (2.3%/113). Unless, of course, we can keep working to make our own cities better for cyclists.