Key West #115 in Best Cities for Bikes List

By Chris Hamilton, June 10, 2020

On June 9 People for Bikes released their ranking of 575 communities in North America (567 in the USA) in their Annual 2020 City Ratings for Best Cities for Bikes and Key West came in at #115 with an Overall Score of 1.9 out of 5 and received one out of five stars. Yay! Kinda. Sort of? The highest score was San Louis Obisbo, CA with a 3.5 score. The number five city is Washington, D.C. with a 3.2. Our sister City of Provincetown, Massachusetts came in at #17 with a 3.1 score. Yes, People for Bikes is a hard grader. And they should be because North America still has a long way to go in being really bike friendly.

Note this list is slightly different than the numbers we discuss because it doesn’t include Canadian cities.

Number 115 doesn’t seem like a great ranking. But that’s out of 575 places. So when you have that perspective, its pretty good, right? Then again we do have some natural advantages for biking because we’re warm, flat and compact. So maybe we should be higher, no? And how did PTown do so much better than us, because they certainly don’t have the warm part? Out of 20 Florida cities, Key West ranked number 4 behind St. Pete 2.4, Orlando 2.3, and Gainesville 2.2. Actually, to think of any Florida city, because they all seem so car-dependent, beating out Key West amazes me. Yes, we should be doing better.

Overall City Ratings are shaped by five key indicators: Ridership (how many people are riding bikes?), Safety (how safe is it to ride bikes?), Network (how easy is it for people to bike where they want to go?), Reach (how well does the network serve all members of the community?) and Acceleration (how fast is the bike network growing and/or improving?). These indicators are ranked on a scale of 1-5 and weighed equally to provide a city’s comprehensive City Ratings score. Key West received a 1.9 Overall Score in 2019 and had a 2.1 Overall Score the first year in 2018.

Key West Does Best in Ridership and Reach

The City got a 2.4 Ridership Score and ranked #32 out of 575 communities. Ridership is about how many people are riding bikes. “Studies show that when more people ride bikes, biking is safer and more appealing. The Ridership score takes into account riding for both recreation and transportation. Data Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey, Sports Marketing Survey Bicycle Participation, and PlacesforBikes Community Survey” This shouldn’t surprise us. We know lots of residents commute by bike and that lots of people use bikes to get around, including visitors. Perhaps this also reflects the fact that we’re warm, flat and small.

Key West also did well on Reach with a Score of 3.0 which ranked Key West at #53 out of 575. Reach is about how well the bike network reaches the entire community. “The Reach score determines how well a city’s bike network serves all members of the community. It uses demographic data to understand differences in ridership and network access for traditionally underserved populations compared to the whole city. Data Sources: U.S. Census American Community Survey and PlacesforBikes Bicycle Network Analysis or BNA”

We’re basically hitting the low hanging fruit by scoring well on these two attributes.

Key West Needs Improvement on Safety, Acceleration and Network

Where Key West needs to do some work has been obvious to most of us for a while. Safety. While we have the natural advantage of being warm, flat and compact, our city fathers have built too much of our street system with a huge preference for cars. The car-centric nature of our streets leads to safety issues and that’s no doubt reflected in our low 1.5 Score for Safety. This score will only improve if we start installing infrastructure such as neighborhood greenways, protected bike lanes and bike boxes and markings through intersections.

Acceleration is about how quickly a community is working to make biking better. “Acceleration is about setting plans into motion, getting things ready for the future and recognizing that changing long-term safety and ridership requires action today. The Acceleration score looks at a city’s current actions to encourage more people to get out and ride.” The dismal Acceleration Score of 0.5 seems a bit low to us but we’ve then again we’ve heard many complain the City isn’t doing anything for bikes. The fact that a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Transportation Plan was adopted in March 2019 should count for something. Perhaps People for Bikes is looking for evidence of of actual implementation and it is here that perhaps we can do much better. Check out our May 20, 2020 article Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan for ideas on why it is important and how we can accelerate and get going sooner.

Network is about how easily people can get to where they need to go by bike. “A strong bike network comfortably and efficiently connects people to the places they want to go. People are much more likely to ride a bike in a city with a strong network.” We’ve talked often about the network effect. It is nice to have a good bicycle facility one one street, but unless it connects to other good facilities across the city, then it becomes useless. Network is about a string of protected lanes, trails and intersections all over the place. Not a bike lane here and a sharrow over there. It also means having good wayfinding signage.

Why There’s Hope for Key West’s Future

There’s hope for our improving because with all of our natural advantages it shouldn’t take too much design and intention to make things better. Key West isn’t hilly or sliced up by highways or rivers that cut us off from other parts of town. We’re not sprawled all over the place and our downtown has a grid that is especially conducive to hopping around. And for all the complaints about how hot it is right now, we really do have good weather 12 months of the year. Would you really rather have the weather of Madison, Wisconsin? And they’re ranked #2!

We also have a Bike Plan that was drafted by one of the best firms in the business, had tons of community meetings and input and has been adopted by the City Commission. All we need is a little political will to implement some of the recommendations to move on up the list. We’re hopeful….

Sources and Additional Information

Key West City Scorecards 2018 through 2020:

Key West, Let’s Radically Speed Up the Implementation of Our Bike/Ped Plan

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: