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Evolution of a Bicycle Friendly Community - the Davis Model
By David Takemoto-Weerts
Bicycle Program Coordinator
Transportation & Parking Services
University of California

Page 1
What makes Davis bicycle friendly? An introduction to "The Bicycle Capital of the U.S."

Davis, California, is sometimes referred to as "The Bicycle Capital of the U.S." because of the city's high rate of bicycle use (with estimates of 20 - 25% of all trips being made by bicycle) and its long history of providing its thousands of pedalers with a "cyclist-friendly" environment. Wide streets, an extensive bikeway network, gentle terrain, mild climate, supportive official policies, and an attitude of mutual respect between cyclists and motorists have resulted in a community with perhaps the most bikes per capita of any city in the U.S. and a real "bicycling culture."

Davis may seem like a utopian model and a social oddity in a country otherwise dominated by the motor vehicle. It is important to realize, however, that many other communities around the nation have emulated Davis in large and small ways, and gradually transformed themselves into places that enjoy the improved quality of life that marks bicycle friendly communities.

Davis' pioneering efforts in accommodating bicyclists and providing special bicycle facilities were unprecedented in this country. Many communities have long looked to Davis as a model for their own attempts to promote cycling locally. Now, over thirty years since the nation's first bike lanes were striped on the streets of Davis, it is time to look at the Davis model --how it evolved, what have been the successes and shortcomings along the way, and which facilities, policies and programs have endured and can continue to serve as examples for other communities.

It is important to examine what was "special" about the city thirty years ago that led to its success in promoting cycling. It is also necessary to look at the formidable challenges facing Davis cyclists, planners, and politicians today.

As the city continues to grow, it attempts to sustain bicycling's many benefits while confronted with expanding borders, population growth, and associated factors that threaten to transform "America's Best Cycling City"1 into just another auto-centered municipality indistinguishable from most other North American cities in its reliance on, and subservience to the motor vehicle.

In a 1972 "Bicycle Circulation and Safety Study" commissioned by the city and the University of California, researchers wrote:

"In speaking of Davis the word most commonly used is "unique", perhaps the only accurate portrait of the community as regards its most outstanding characteristic - the bicycle. "Davis" and "bicycle" are virtually synonymous. *Originally presented at ProBike '98 in Santa Barbara, California, this paper was updated in October 2002.


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