Charlotte Ranks Low Compared to Peer Cities in National Bicycling Report


Charlotte’s lackluster cycling infrastructure is making national news. The national bicycle advocacy organization PeopleforBikes recently unveiled their PlacesforBikes City Ratings System.

Out of five potential points, Charlotte earned only 2.2 points for its overall score. For reference, Atlanta has a score of 2.9, while Raleigh is at 2.6. Charlotte’s eventual recognition as a world-class bicycle city will only be achieved through investment from City Council at the annual $4 million dollar level beginning with the 2019 budget and continuing each year, as recommended by the Charlotte BIKES transportation plan.

Charlotte’s bicycle program has not had stand-alone funding since 2012, leaving the City unable to fully invest in bicycle education, enforcement, evaluation, or encouragement activities. A lack of dedicated annual funding has slowed Charlotte’s progress towards becoming a bicycle-friendly city. 44 people per day are moving to the city, but the bicycle infrastructure has not kept up with population growth and transportation needs of residents.

Charlotte has a long way to go to catch up with US cities that enjoy high participation in cycling like New Tucson, AZ and Portland, OR (both have a score of 3.3 from PlacesforBikes). Researchers at PlacesforBIKES compiled data from over 1,000 cities and communities, measuring five factors critical factors with five possible points that make cities great for cycling:

Ridership reflects how many many people in the community ride bikes for both recreation and transportation purposes. Charlotte scored a 1.6.

Safety considers fatalities and injuries of people on bikes as well as those walking and driving. Charlotte scored a 1.6.

Bicycle Network Analysis determines how well the bicycle network connects people to each other and local destinations using comfortable routes. Charlotte scored a 2.2.

Reach uses demographic data to determine how well a community’s low-stress network servers all members of the community, especially in terms of differences in access and connectivity in traditionally underserved populations compared to the whole city. Charlotte scored a 1.3, the City’s lowest out of the five metrics.

Acceleration measures how quickly a community is improving the biking infrastructure and how successful its encouragement programs are at getting people to ride. Charlotte scored a 1.8.

For the past ten years, Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) has only been able to build bicycle lanes in conjunction with planned street improvements or Cross Charlotte Trail expansion projects. This piecemeal approach has resulted in miles of striped bike lanes, many of which are currently too short to be useful because they do not connect to destinations.  Cities with higher PlacesforBikes City Ratings are focused on building connected networks of safe on-street and off-street bike facilities. Charlotte must take the same approach to be competitive.

A new focus on active transportation

After years of underinvestment in active transportation, the City has taken the first step towards safer and more accessible streets for all of its residents.

On Monday, May 7, City Manager Marcus Jones presented the preliminary 2019 budget to City Council. The City proposes allocating $4 million dollars to begin implementing the bicycle program and Charlotte BIKES plan. If approved, this would be the first stand-alone funding for the City’s bicycle program since 2012. CDOT will be able to build bicycle infrastructure when they see a need, instead of just tagging onto existing roadway projects already in the pipeline.

The proposed budget also includes an increase from $15 million to $30 million for the pedestrian program and Charlotte WALKS plan, and $2 million for a new Vision Zero program to work towards the elimination of traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

At the May 14th Public Hearing for the 2019 budget, Sustain Charlotte Bicycle Program Manager Kate Cavazza and four other community members spoke to Council in support of the proposed bicycle and pedestrian funding not just for 2019, but also on an annual basis.

At the Public Hearing, Cavazza said, “As you [City Council] move toward adoption of the 2019 budget, we [Sustain Charlotte] urge to you to fully support the Manager’s recommended funding of the bicycle, pedestrian and Vision Zero programs this year, next year, and every year to come so community members all around the city can be have equal access to safe, affordable, and healthy transportation choices no matter where they live.”

What are your thoughts on biking in Charlotte?