Nebraska loses distinction as least ‘bicycle friendly’ state in the union

By: - August 17, 2022 6:07 pm
bike trail

Matt Rechmeyer of Lincoln and his brother Drew, of Omaha, pedal down Nebraska Highway 1 near Murdock — one of the alternative routes used by bicyclists because of a missing link in trails from Omaha and Lincoln. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Nebraska is no longer at the end of the pack as the nation’s least friendly state for bicyclists.

A new ranking by the League of American Bicyclists now places the Cornhusker State 49th out of 50 states.

Nebraska had been ranked 50th since 2017.

“We have a long way to go,” said Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska.

She jokingly attributed the state’s ascension from the bike-friendly basement to “pity.”

Neighboring Wyoming now ranks as the nation’s least-friendly state for bicyclists. The top bike friendly states are Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington.

Several factors go into ranking

The League of Bicyclists ranks states on factors such as infrastructure, policies, education and traffic laws.

Nebraska got its top grade, a “B,” for “traffic laws and practices.” Harris said the passage of a state law in 2017, which gave bicyclists the same legal protections as pedestrians when in a crosswalk, boosted that score. Safety, she said, has been an emphasis area for Bike Walk Nebraska.

The state’s worst grades were an “F+” for infrastructure and funding and an “F” for education and encouragement.

The League of Bicyclists noted that Nebraska was one of only eight states that have never adopted a statewide bike plan, doesn’t utilize a “Complete Streets” strategy to include commuting on bicycles as part of its planning process and doesn’t make “bicycle safety an emphasis area” in its strategic highway planning. The state also lacks design standards for dedicated bike lanes, for instance.

“We just don’t check those boxes,” Harris said, adding that her association continues to work with the Nebraska Department of Transportation to adopt road designs with bike safety in mind.

Jeni Campana, a spokeswoman for NDOT, said that while the state doesn’t have a formal state bike plan, bicyclists were considered in the new, 20-year comprehensive transportation plan completed last year.

‘On our radar’

“It is on our radar,” Campana said. “Is this something we spent a ton on time on 20 years ago, probably not. Are we spending more time on it now, absolutely.”

The NDOT, she said, has an interactive state bike map on its website. The department has made accommodations in the design of the South Beltway south of Lincoln to accommodate future bicycle trail construction in that area.

Harris, of Bike Walk Nebraska, added that the group helped persuade the NDOT to install girders alongside a new U.S. 75 bridge spanning the Platte River near Plattsmouth so that a bike lane can be added later.

The agency also agreed, she said, to provide gaps in “rumble strips” along new state highways so that if bicyclists have to get off the shoulder and onto the highway, they have safer paths to do that.

$8.3 million allocated

She said the rankings were likely made before the Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts and allocated $8.3 million of the state’s $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to finish a missing link in a bike-hike trail between Omaha and Lincoln.

Perhaps that extra funding might have improved Nebraska’s ranking slightly, Harris said. South Dakota, Mississippi and Oklahoma rank just above Nebraska in the bottom five.

Nebraska’s rating might be low, according to Harris, because the state has fewer hard-core bicyclists than do other states. Only 0.3% of the state’s commuters do so via bicycle, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

Harris said surveys show that about 60% of people would bike but are afraid due to the lack of safe routes. She said the cities of Omaha and Lincoln have good bike-hike trail systems, but they often aren’t incorporated into a complete transportation plan.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

MORE FROM AUTHOR