There’s this general perception of bicycling in the United States as big city, elitest, liberal and young. Like a lot of generalizations, this one’s wrong. Cycling is largely a regional phenomenon on this side of the pond.
Bicycle-friendly places tend to be clustered in the United States. Colorado and Utah come to mind, as do Washington and Oregon. In the Upper Midwest, bicycling is most prevalent in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. These places consistently dominate the top ten rankings of bicycle friendly states.Cycling is popular in big cities and small towns in these regions. It’s popular among young and old people of all political persuasions. Many of them will never don spandex or be hipsters. There’s a certain pragmatism at work here. They just get it. They often cycle because it is simply the best way to get where they’re going.
Nowhere is this more true than in smallish cities like Fort Collins, Salt Lake City, and Duluth. Most of these places have colleges, but they are not necessarily “college towns.” They also have snow and bitter cold temperatures, weather that makes non-cyclists assume that it’s not possible to cycle year round and yet they are among the best cities in the US for bicycle commuting.
Then there’s Fargo. I think this city of 115,000 is one of those places that the rest of America should be looking at to see how to do things the right way. I’ve been here a few times and have always marveled at the relative vibrancy of the place, tucked as it is on the edge of a flat, mostly frozen prairie miles from anywhere. There are no mountains or ocean beaches here to draw young adventurers. Winters are long and brutal. The Red River floods the city just about every spring, or so it seems. The closest big cities are Winnipeg Maintoba and Minneapolis, both over three hours away when the roads are snow and ice free and longer the rest of the time.
In spite of all of this, Fargo has done a better job than most similarly sized cities of retaining its young people. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it mostly boils down to economic opportunity. Fargo’s economy is fairly robust. It’s about more than bicycles.
And yet bicycles are part of it. They have bikeshare here. It’s doing really, really well. The local newspaper, The Forum, has noticed all those people zipping around town on bicycles and is now calling on city government and a coalition of business leaders to use its success to push through a comprehensive infrastructure plan.
The I hope they succeed. Recognition of the importance of cycling in Fargo will encourage civic leaders in similar places like Lubbock TX, Jefferson City MO and Lafayette IN to also go all in. If they do, they might be surprised at the impact. Bicycling makes communities better. Who wouldn’t want that for their home town?