The League of American Bicyclists recently released its 2017 Bicycle Friendly State ranking. Idaho moved down from #21 to #28 in these rankings between 2015 and 2017; there was no 2016 report. Why is this important? Let’s start with some quick history.
The Bicycle Friendly State rankings are based on five categories: Infrastructure and Funding; Education and Encouragement; Legislation and Enforcement; Policies and Programs; Evaluation and Planning. All fifty states compete with one another, so states are ranked 1 through 50, rather than simply given a designation like the Bicycle Friendly Business or Bicycle Friendly Community. This means Idaho’s success is dependent on how other states perform.
From 2012 to 2013, Idaho jumped ten points from #36 to #26. Then Idaho moved up an additional six points to #20 in 2014. It seemed the state was headed in the right direction on bicycle safety, until this year’s ranking of #28 was published.
Our lowest ranking (41st out of 50 states) is in the Legislation and Enforcement category. In other words, it is time to think about a Safe Passing Law or Complete Streets policy to improve safety for vulnerable users on our roadways. Our next lowest ranking (42nd out of 50) is in Infrastructure and Funding. This reflects a Department of Transportation and state leadership who value freight movement over bicycle tourism and travel. Idaho ranks 46th out of 50 on spending; in other words, according to federal data, Idaho spends a mere $1.18 per capita on biking and walking.
There is some good news, though. According to federal data, Idaho ranks #3 in safety. We have two fatalities per 10,000 bicycle commuters. We also enjoy 1% of commuters biking to work, where we are ranked 8th out of 50.
Because we are ranked against all the states, North Carolina and Florida are two states that have lagged behind Idaho in previous rankings, but both passed us this year. North Carolina has a long history of being a leader in bicycle transportation planning, with the creation of North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation in 1973 – a robust program for funding local bicycle plans. But, this has not translated into a higher ridership, as this state only enjoys 0.2% of commuters biking to work. But clearly this state is doing some things right.
Florida has had the honor of being one of the most deadly states in which to walk and bicycle, as has been evident in their 2016 #24 ranking compared to this year’s #15 spot. The Florida Department of Transportation has made recent efforts to upgrade its data related to bicycling. One result is the TransPed Initiative, a data and graphic-driven tool to review and analyze data.
Idaho’s strength has been its powerful community advocacy, which we see in every corner of the state. Most Idaho mayors want their citizens to be safe and active as they travel around town, whether in a car or not. Yet we continue to live in a car-centric state, which took fifty years to create, and will take many years to change. Rankings like the Bicycle Friendly State are important because they are a barometer measuring how we are doing as we work to create change to make Idaho’s roads safer for all users; one we feel is fundamental to safe, healthy, and economically vibrant communities.