California is now the ninth “friendliest” biking state in the country, jumping up from 19th place last year, according to the latest rankings by the League of American Bicyclists.
For the seventh year in a row, Washington is ranked first nationally in the league’s Bicycle Friendly States analysis.
California leaped into the top 10 mainly because the state committed to increasing bike funding 30 percent last year after the federal government cut back on bike and pedestrian funding. The league also cited the state’s new law requiring drivers to give cyclists 3 feet of space when passing on the street.
“Our jump to one of the top 10 states reflects Caltrans’ commitment toward more bike-friendly communities,” said California Department of Transportation Director Malcolm Dougherty. “We plan to continue our success by working with our local partners to infuse about $360 million into biking and other active transportation projects over the next three years.”
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Cycling advocates in California and the Sacramento region said they are pleased with the direction California is moving, but said the state and its cities have a long way to go before cycling becomes an easy, safe and comfortable mode of daily transportation for many people.
“California continues to move the right direction and is picking up the pace, but there is a lot of room for improvement,” said Dave Snyder, head of the California Bicycle Coalition.
In particular, bike advocates want the state to redo design guidelines for bike lanes to make it easier for cities to design “bikeways“ or “cycle tracks” for cyclists that separate them from cars.
“California has old-fashioned design rules,” Snyder said. “It’s hard to put in bikeways where bikes are separated from moving traffic.”
Jim Brown, head of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, said he appreciates the league ratings, but said biking on streets is still scary to many people, other than riders who are strong and confident.
“Seventy-five percent of bicyclists are male,” Brown said. “The female share continues to drop. That tells me we haven’t yet found a way to make our streets meet the needs of a large share of women.”
Brown said the 3-foot passing law should be helpful in encouraging cycling, but only if police enforce it. “If it is not enforced, if there isn’t any education, it is probably not a game-changer.”