Top U.S. Cities For Winter Bicycle Commuting

For bicycle commuters, continuing to pedal through the winter months can be a daunting task, especially if one lives in a northern city. Often the decision for winter bicycle commuting comes down to perspective: Is cycling a sport or a viable form of transportation that offers a multitude of advantages such as saving money and improving the health of the cyclist and the environment? In order for bicycling to be respected as sustainable transportation, the surrounding community must be supportive of cyclists year-round. This includes city maintenance of bike lanes and paths during winter as well as supportive bicycle initiatives. It can be done. In Copenhagen, where dedicated snow plows clear the bike lanes, 80% of cyclists continue through the winter. Here are five cities in the U.S. that are supporting bicycle commuting through the winter.

Biking On Snowy Streets

Boulder, Colorado

What makes Boulder one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country is partly due to the city’s commitment to winter bike commuters. While Boulder is no stranger to bike commuting it’s also no stranger to snowy weather, which makes most Coloradans dedicated to maintaining an active lifestyle despite weather challenges. Last January, Boulder held its’ third annual Winter Bike to Work Day. The over-60 miles of paved multi-use paths get plowed before more than an inch of snow accumulates using separate snow removal crews, while the on-road bike lanes are plowed right along with the streets. Many Boulder cyclists say their bicycles are faster than getting across town in a car held up by winter weather and traffic. Though Boulder does not have commuter rail, bike racks are available on the city bus at a first come first serve basis.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Heralded by Bicycling Magazine as America’s most bike-friendly city, Minneapolis has seen success for its’ initiative in reducing car dependence. While the number of bicycle commuters do decline in the frigid winter months, the city estimates that 36 percent of bike commuters still pedal on clear winter days and a bold 20 percent brave the harsher conditions that tend to plague the area. Perhaps it’s the inspiration cyclists get from seeing others riding in the winter that will keep these numbers rising.

With over 60 miles of off-road trails, the city is speedy at removing snow from these areas, typically withing 24 hours. According to Minneapolis cyclists, the 46 miles of on-road bike lanes become a bit more challenging to keep clear of the piling snow as well as parked cars during the winter months. Cyclists can take advantage of Minneapolis’ Metro Transit System incorporating light rail, commuter rail, and bus service all equipped with bike racks. For commuters who travel by bike 3 or more days a week, the transit system offers a free Guaranteed Ride Home Program good for use up to 4 times a year for emergencies such as snowstorms.

Madison, Wisconsin

Madison’s successful bicycle infrastructure has made getting around town by bike such a feasible venture that many Madison bike commuters continue on through the winter months. Currently, the town boasts 87 miles of bike lanes and 43 miles of off-road bike paths which are quickly cleared of snow by the parks department. Many Madison cyclists claim the bike paths are often cleared before the streets. Bike Madison, the city’s website devoted exclusively for bicycling, is a great resource and support for year-round bike commuters.  All Madison Metro buses are equipped with bike racks available on a first come first serve basis. Bike Winter is a volunteer organization that hosts winter cycling events in Madison in an effort to inspire and educate.

New York, New York

The New York City Parks Department does such a expeditious job of clearing the growing number of bike paths and greenways that last winter it added to the already contentious bike lane controversy when many of the bike paths were cleared of snow and ice before the roads. For New York to compete with world-class bicycling cities like Copenhagen, this support of winter cycling will need to continue as the more cyclists are out there in the winter, the more citizens will be aware of cyclists on the road. The New York City Department of Transportation has done an excellent job of adding bicycle parking, including the famous David Byrne bike racks, and is in the process of building 36 sheltered bike racks that hold 8 bikes each. Their website includes a helpful map showing where these bike racks are located. With NYC gearing up to unleash its’ New York City Bike Share in 2012, winter cycling in New York could see a surge as the program is slated to run 365 days a year.

Snow Covered Bikes

Burlington, Vermont

Recently awarded the silver status as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, Burlington, Vermont can be buried in snow from October to April as the winds whip off Lake Champlain. This doesn’t stop the tenacious souls who choose a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation through the harsh winters of Burlington. Many University of Vermont students find it easier and much less expensive to get around town sporting fat tires and extra layers as they pedal through the elements. With Burlington devoted to building a strong bicycle network as well as encouraging residents to lead a sustainable lifestyle, winter cycling isn’t such a crazy notion.

7 thoughts on “Top U.S. Cities For Winter Bicycle Commuting”

  1. You only list northern cities with lousy weather. I cannot living in a place like that. What about Tucson- no snow, lots of bike lanes and dry pavement most of the winter. Davis CA- cycling has been a major mode of transport for more than 30 years and it never snows.

    1. Thank you for your comment. For the purpose of this article, I chose cities that support winter bike commuting when conditions aren’t favorable. These are cities that make the most effort to keep the roads clear and safe for cyclists. Of course southern cities don’t have to tend to these issues, though you are certainly right, Davis and Tucson do heavily support their bike commuters. You may want to check out the article on Bike-Friendly Small Towns:

  2. Totally jealous – where I live in the Philadelphia area we have about 3 weeks a year with snow on the ground. The plows use the bike lanes and paths as storage for the snow – where it turns to rutted ice for weeks.

    I don’t mind riding on the road at all, but when it snows the narrower lanes made by the plows become unsharable so I have to take the lane almost everywhere. And you never know when the driver behind you is going to slide on the ice and not be able to stop!

    So even with studded snow tires on my bike I feel that commuting gets hazardous during these snow spells and I often stop bicycling until the snow goes away.

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