The Most Bicycle-Friendly City In America?

Back in 1959, the University of California-Davis was experiencing a sudden upsurge in its student population, with 8000 new students enrolling. This was not unexpected given that the city of Davis was also experiencing sudden population growth in that same period. However, this swelling of the student body confronted the university administration with a new problem: the prospect of hundreds of new cars on the campus. This threatened to create a traffic nightmare, so the new chancellor, Emil Mrak, instituted a new policy. Student car ownership was banned, barriers were erected to restrict car movement on campus, campus streets were converted to bicycle paths and new construction of tree-lined bicycle paths was initiated. The result of implementing these policies would soon have a transformative effect upon the surrounding city.

Inspired by the actions of the university, citizen groups campaigned for bicycle-friendly urban and traffic planning policies to be implemented by the City of Davis. As a result, this California community became the first in the United States to create dedicated bike lanes throughout the city traffic network. Certain streets were separated by concrete barriers, converting them to bicycle-only pathways of the type common in the Netherlands. Dedicated parking areas for bicycles were zoned, with locking racks provided, in key points throughout the city. And many businesses soon installed bicycle air pumps streetside for the further convenience of customers. By 2015, 98% of the urban traffic space in Davis had some provision of one kind or another for bicycles.

Davis Cycling practices and policies served as a model for communities throughout the state of California and other communities across the nation. In accordance with the state’s Bicycle Transportation Act (1993), the integration of bicycle and public transportation should facilitate the use of bicycles for convenient cross-town commuting. The city also has plans to create its first car-bicycle junction for downtown, making it easier to control traffic and enhancing safety for cycling commuters.

However, other communities such as Boulder, Colorado have surpassed the Davis effort, and other California communities such as Roseville are becoming more ambitious in designing and implementing new bicycle-friendly policies for traffic planning and control. Observers have attributed this trend to a case of the city “resting on its laurels” from its previous energetic pursuit of bicycle-friendly policies. However, reinvigorated public campaigning show promise toward putting Davis back on track as the most Bicycle Friendly City in America.