Bicycle Commuting Is an Easier Sell in Cambridge

Midsize cities often have greater shares of bicycle commuters than their big-city counterparts.

Because Cambridge sits next to Boston, it sometimes makes it easier to see the differences between smaller and larger cities. One of those differences: bicycle commuting.

Nationwide, midsize cities attract fewer headlines for their embrace of bicycling, but they’re often places where the transit has taken greater hold than in big metropolises. The Atlantic Cities described this trend:

Although large cities have led the way with bike infrastructure innovations and grabbed the national headlines, bicycling is also on the rise in many small and midsized cities. With a bike share of commuters at 6 percent in 2012, Portland led all large American cities, but lagged behind smaller cities such as Davis, California (19 percent), Boulder, Colorado (12 percent), Corvallis, Oregon (11 percent), and Santa Cruz, California (9 percent).

The 2012 report from the League of American Bicyclists that provided that data found that 2 percent of commuters in Boston are cyclists, versus 8.5 percent in Cambridge. The Atlantic Cities theorizes that, “Smaller cities may offer some advantages for cycling because their shorter trip distances are more easily covered by bike, and because lower volumes of motor vehicle traffic make cycling less stressful.” Anyone who has biked in both Boston and Cambridge (which is almost everyone who has biked in either Boston or Cambridge) can probably see some truth in that. The roads in Cambridge are just a bit saner.

Its not just Cambridge’s size and traffic volume, though. That same report found that Cambridge was one of the best college towns for bicyclists. This, too, makes some sense. The report notes:

College and university campuses are unique environments for their high density, stimulating atmosphere and defined boundaries. And those towns essentially built around those campuses are often ideal for incorporating bicycling.

All of this is important, of course, because studies show that the higher the number of bike commuters, the more aware of them drivers must be, and the safer they all are. The happy fact is that Boston benefits from its overlap with a midsize city like Cambridge, where bike commuting is an easier sell, and drivers (who may be on their way into Boston) know to expect a greater proportion of commuters pedaling to work.