Today, 198 brave men will mount their bicycles and undertake one of the most difficult challenges in professional sports: the 2,271-mile Tour de France. When Le Tour finishes July 27, it’s not likely that any of the eight American riders will be standing on the podium. But when the next great U.S. cyclist comes along, don’t be surprised if he hails from Washington state, the best state for biking.
The Evergreen State has won the coveted No. 1 ranking from the League of American Bicyclists seven years in a row. That’s because Washington invests in cycling infrastructure, and it has a comprehensive set of state laws to protect cyclists on the road.
Washington has “a really good bicycling advocacy community,” said Darren Flusche, the league’s policy director. “They have established federal, state and local funding sources. They have a really extensive rails-to-trails network.”
Washington applies about 3.2 percent of its federal transportation dollars to cyclists and pedestrians, according to the Alliance for Biking &Walking. That’s well above the 2.1 percent national average. Washington is one of just five states to meet all seven safety criteria the alliance measured, from Share the Road campaigns to bicycle enforcement training for new police officers. Neither cycling group included the District in its rankings, largely because it’s so urban that it would dominate all the categories.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Lynn Peterson, secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation, make a point of including cycling in state transportation planning, Flusche said.
“Anytime an executive, whether it’s a governor or the head of a department of transportation, prioritizes bicycling and provides that leadership, that reverberates down the ranks,” Flusche said. “It’s a question of, are there good places to ride, and do people feel safe and respected on the road?”
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Delaware and Oregon also rank near the top of the list of best states for cyclists. Delaware spends 3.7 percent of its federal transportation dollars on cycling and pedestrian programs, the highest share in the nation; Delaware and Minnesota spend more than $5 per capita on cycling and pedestrian projects.
Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Montana and Alabama scored lowest for cycling infrastructure funding and safety programs.
Other places may have better weather than rainy Seattle, but Flusche said Washington’s laws put it at the head of the peloton: “We don’t give points for sunshine,” he said. It’s appropriate, then, that the best American riding in the Tour de France this year, Tejay van Garderen, is a Tacoma native.
Wilson is the author of Read In, The Washington Post’s new morning tipsheet on politics.