Published: August 2008
The Wheel Deal
How American cities are turning the daily commute into a joy ride.
Text by Andy Isaacson
Top Five Bike-Friendly Cities
Portland, Oregon
Davis, California
Tucson, Arizona
Madison, Wisconsin
Boulder, Colorado

Source: League of American Bicyclists

Bumper-to-bumper. Stop-and-go. No parking. Cities across the nation are hoping to eliminate these workday woes with major infrastructure adjustments in favor of bicycle commuters. "More people would be riding to work in this country, but access and safety are still a problem," says cycling legend Lance Armstrong, who in May opened Mellow Johnny’s, an 18,000-square-foot cycling shop in downtown Austin complete with locker rooms and showers. He wants to encourage residents to trade steering wheels for handlebars. "We still need to be more aggressive here," he says. "Like in Portland, where they build a mile of bike lane for every mile of road."

High gas prices and rising public eco-consciousness are creating what Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calls "the perfect storm for cycle advocacy." Founder of the 187-member Congressional Bike Caucus and a key figure in Portland’s progressive policies, Blumenauer has introduced a bill that would enlist the federal government in promoting—and funding—urban cycling. He’s already gathered dozens of co-sponsors. "Compared to the usual glacial pace in the legislature," he says, "this bill has been moving extraordinarily fast."

The trend is also gaining grassroots momentum. Last spring, the nation’s capital kicked off SmartBike DC, a bicycle-sharing program modeled on a successful version in Paris: A $40 annual membership fee buys access to bikes stationed throughout the city. Louisville is planning a hundred miles of urban loops over the next decade. Even New York City will be striping 200 miles of on-street bike lanes by 2009. Armstrong hails these moves as precursors to a shift in public perception. "In order to attract new riders or commuters, biking has to be both more practical on a civic level and more valued on a cultural level." Austin bike commuter Christian Goy agrees. "Ultimately it’s going to take more than a [locker room and] shower to entice people to ride downtown on their bicycles," he says. "People need to switch their mentality—it’s really a fundamental lifestyle change."