Streets for People / PeopleforBikes’ 2022 City Ratings Ranks Key West 15th in North America. What Can We Achieve If We Really Try? Our Mayor Says: #1

For the sixth consecutive year, on June 21 PeopleForBikes released its 2022 City Ratings, a data-driven program to evaluate, identify and compare the best cities for bicycling. For 2022, 1,105 cities were rated in the U.S. and Canada, the largest collection of cities in program history. Key West scored 61 on a 100-point scale earning it 15th place overall and 7th out of 565 small cities. This improved on last year’s score of 58 and 39th place and 10th place rankings respectively. This is great news. However, analysis, corroborated by local leaders, reveals our relatively decent score, and great ranking has more to do with the fact that our city is compact, flat and we have good weather, so lots of residents and visitors bike year-round, not necessarily because we have amazing bicycle infrastructure.

This begs the question of what score and ranking could be possible if we doubled down on the natural factors already in place (compact, flat, good weather) and invested in efforts to make it safer and easier to bike by building out a stress-free bicycle network as envisioned in our Bike/Ped Plan. Top 5 for all cities in North America? Number 1 for small cities? If we can spend $5M annually on transit, why can’t we spend at least $1M a year on bicycling in furtherance of this goal? Key West becoming a recognized very top bicycling city in North America would not only enhance residents’ quality of life and reduce our beleaguered workforce’s commuting costs but could serve as a visitor calling card for a whole new eco-tourist demographic that values such things. Let’s dive in and analyze the scoring, talk to Mayor Johnston (we think everyone will love what she has to say) and some local bicycle leaders about the results and discuss what this could mean for bicycling’s future in Key West. 

The PeopleForBikes Annual City Ratings = Tough Standards

The City Ratings evaluate and compare bicycling in cities that can help leaders pinpoint improvements to make biking better for everyone. The ratings draw from two key factors: the quality of the bicycle network in a region (Network Score – 80%) and community perceptions of bicycling (Community Score – 20%). The first is sourced from the PeopleForBikes Bicycle Network Analysis, the second from online surveys submitted by local residents about bicycling in their city. Of the 1,058 American communities included in the survey, 95% garnered fewer than 50 points out of a possible 100 — a sign says PeopleforBikes, that the majority of U.S. cities have ample room for improvement in terms of bicycling infrastructure and safety. PeopleForBikes analyzed 47 cities in Canada, and they are included in the overall 1,105 total. European and Australian results will be released later this year, and this will enable American cities to benchmark against some of the best cities in the world like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris.

Key West’s Score – Bicycle Network Analysis

The Bicycle Network Analysis, or BNA, is a data analysis tool that measures the quality and connectivity of a city’s bicycle lanes — in other words, its bike network. A bicycle network is defined as the system of paths, trails and streets that someone riding a bike can use to access everyday destinations, like:

  • Neighborhoods — access to parts of the city where residents live
  • Opportunity — access to jobs and schools
  • Essential Services — access to places that serve basic needs, like hospitals and grocery stores
  • Recreation — access to recreational amenities like parks and trails
  • Retail — access to major shopping centers
  • Transit— access to major transit stations

Key West, at 4 miles long, 1 mile wide and a total of 4.2 squares miles, is small. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that access from where people live to where they work, go to school, shop and play is all relatively close. In most cities, this simply isn’t the case, especially as most towns aren’t surrounded by water but have sprawling suburbs. Think about many mainland suburbs where there’s only one way in and out of a residential development by way of a main road. That’s not going to show up as safe. Our numbers are generally around 60+. Which is great. Five of the six scores are virtually unchanged from a year before, but a huge jump from 37 to 62 in our access to transit score allowed Key West to move from 59 to 63 on the Network Score, and thus our improvement in the main score from 58 to 61 and our climbing in the rankings even as our Community Score dropped just a bit (more on that below). 

We talked to our friends at PeopleforBikes and they explained:

“The Transit score changed because two transit stations were added to the map in high accessibility areas. They are the Key West Bight Ferry Terminal and the Sunset Key Ferry station. Previously, only the bus station was mapped, and it is in a less accessible area.”

While we know the ferry terminals have been around forever, it makes sense the transit score is more in line with the other scores and not the outlier it was last year because if you can get to all those other places by bike, you can certainly get to the main bus stops. 

The Network Analysis Map shown above (methodology explained here) shows high-stress (red) and low-stress (blue) areas for bicycling in Key West. This map looks like there are a lot of high stress areas, especially on some of the major streets. It would seem this is somewhat mitigated by the preponderance of lower speed, low stress streets as an alternative to get around. And most of us who ride bikes for transportation in Key West know this intuitively. We stay off of North Roosevelt, Truman, Palm, First, Bertha, sections of White and Whitehead and Simonton to name a few and stick to the quieter streets. Visitors using mapping aps to get around might not understand this as they try to take the most direct route though. Our own Bike/Ped plan uses this map as a tool to help us figure out where projects need to happen. 

Key West’s Score – Community Score and Survey

Each year, PeopleForBikes conducts an online survey to capture perceptions of biking from people that live, work and play in the cities being rated. We’ve often promoted this survey on our Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown Facebook page. The Community Score is based on a 100-point scale derived from four equally weighted scoring categories: 

  • Ridership – How often people ride in their city for transportation and recreation 
  • Safety – How safe people feel riding in their city
  • Network – How well a city’s bike network connects people to places they want to go
  • Awareness – How familiar people are with local biking resources and their City’s efforts to improve biking

Key West scores in three of the four community score categories went down slightly. As we said at the top of the story, lots of people in Key West ride bikes to get around. They’ve told this to PeopleForBikes in the survey and this is reflected in the score of 70 for ridership. The survey’s also saying, as is reflected in the 59 Network score, that we’re able to get where we need to go on a bicycle. However, Key West’s score of 46 on Safety means people in the survey are telling PeopleForBikes we don’t exactly feel safe getting around. The awful 31 score on “awareness of biking resources and our city’s efforts to improve biking” is the weakest score of all. 

The Awareness and Safety scores corroborates our and other’s analysis that we score well here in Key West because we’re small, flat, and warm. Not particularly because the City, County and FDOT are doing lots of bicycle stuff on the ground. 

What Leaders in Key West Are Saying About the City Ratings

We asked some Key West leaders and bicycle advocates what they thought about the Key West’s score and ranking. Here’s what they had to say:

City of Key West Mayor, Teri Johnston:

“We are moving in the right direction but frustratingly slowly. As gas prices increase, this is a perfect time to offer our locals a cost-effective way to get to and from work and our guests a healthy alternative to driving which can reduce noise and congestion on our streets. I continue to be concerned about the number of our streets that are ranked “high stress” by the people who actually ride on them even after we have lowered our speed limits.  Our guests are getting on bikes sometimes for the first time since they were teenagers, so it is important that we continue to improve bicycle safety throughout our island.

Having said that, we are awaiting the results from engineering on the feasibility of a one-way street grid that would accommodate a dedicated bicycle lane on each street to improve bicycle safety and reduce congestion. Unfortunately, we squandered an opportunity to incorporate “complete streets” to the long-awaited South Roosevelt Boulevard road construction project which could have taken bicycles off of the sidewalk and given them a safe, dedicated bicycle lane. Once again, we missed an opportunity to add bicycle lanes on First and Bertha. We cannot improve our bicycle safety unless bicycle lanes are prioritized at the beginning of every city infrastructure project.

The Commission voted unanimously to focus on advancing our Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan (circa 1996, 2010, 2019) via our Strategic operational plan by adding bike rack space for 128 bikes via the Final Mile program by August and another 250 bikes by the end of this month, enhancing 10 intersections for bicycle safety starting in September and initiate a shared street pilot program by December of this year.

We have a perfect island to bike around. We have limited space to accommodate a great number of competing interests. We must use our space more efficiently and thoughtfully in the future. I maintain high hopes that we are the #1 bicycling small community in the near future.”

Tom “The Bike Man” Theisen, bicycle advocate and owner of BikeMan Bike Rentals:

The city did this year what it does every year for cyclists, add a few bike racks.  Yes, there is a bicycle plan, yes, they count cyclists and once in a while they paint a line somewhere. There are so many easy and affordable ways to improve cycling in Key West but there is no action. 

 The city won’t open an extra cemetery gate to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians much less provide wayfinding signage to direct tourists to safer streets. The Palm Avenue bike path should continue onto Eaton Street but instead its blocked by 11 parking spaces that are rarely used. George Street is still dangerous with no place for cyclists (but plenty of parking), and the Home Depot area is as always, very hazardous. The entrances to Overseas Market are a travesty, front, and rear. 

College Road is actually scary for cyclists after the cities “redo” as is North Roosevelt Boulevard sidewalk because of the proliferation of high-speed E-vehicles, no KWPD presence at all. 

Not very aspirational but I don’t see any reason to pat ourselves on the back. With a little effort and money, we could easily be top ten. Maybe next year.

Ryan Stachurski, City of Key West Transportation Coordinator:

“I feel that our city continues to be a great place to travel by bicycle, and we will continue to take steps to make improvements.

The People For Bikes methodology seeks to rank cities by how easy it is for the average person to cycle to a destination along a low-stress route. As a small and compact city with primarily low-speed roads, we’re well positioned to score high. Low speed streets are less stressful for most cyclists. Our City Commission adopted the recommendations of the Parking And Alternative Transportation Group in 2018 reducing speed limits. Certain types of bicycle facilities are also identified as contributing to a low-stress network. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail offers miles of scenic off-road cycling, and it contributed to our score.

We hope to update the Open Street Map data that is available for everyone to use — and is also used to calculate our score. Current projects that should help to lower cyclist stress and improve our standing in the future include the First and Bertha, United Street, and Caroline Street projects. These will all include elements to reduce cyclist stress. We expect to improve wayfinding along the Crosstown Greenway and continue to highlight this low stress route through the center of the City. We’re working to improve the crossings at Wickers Park as well as Staples Bridge.

But the network calculation is only 80% of our score. The other 20% comes from the community. We’ll continue to work to improve communication and to listen to feedback from those in the community.”

What Do We Need to Do to Improve Key West’s Score and Ranking?

Drawing from the data and the conclusions of those we interviewed, we’ve gotten all the low hanging fruit already. Because we’re small, flat, have a compact street grid and have great weather 12 months a year, we don’t have to do much to find lots of people on bikes.

The PeopleForBikes survey AND the people we interviewed, this year and last year, agreed that there’s nothing the City is doing that is enticing people onto bikes, but rather our relatively good score is because of the natural factors already in place. We’ve talked about ways here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here that would help us improve bicycling in Key West. 

We’re going to follow-up this summer and provide a part-two to this article and share what we think could be done to have Key West improve its score and move up in the rankings. Please help by telling us what YOU think should be done. Now is an especially good time to think about this as the City is just now starting budget discussions for the next fiscal year that begins October 1. Please contact us with your ideas. 

What Does All This Mean for Key West’s Bicycling Future?

As our Mayor says, we are moving in the right direction but frustratingly slowly. She agrees, the low safety numbers in the PeopleForBikes survey show many residents don’t exactly think it is safe to bicycle in Key West and all the red “high stress” streets on the Bicycle Network Analysis show where it is unsafe. Research shows that to get the people who aren’t comfortable on the streets to bike, you need to have good bicycle infrastructure. We have a roadmap in the Bicycle Network Analysis that shows us where to target the infrastructure improvements. Mayor Johnston points out; all of this is in our Bike/Ped Plan. We just must implement it and not ignore it as we’ve done on First and Bertha Streets

The good news is that our natural factors (compact, flat, good weather) are the bridge to a better future. We agree with the Mayor that there’s no reason Key West couldn’t be #1, at least in the Small Cities in the U.S. category, if we tried just a little harder. We could become known as the world’s small bicycling paradise. We could become known for the same bicycling culture as rock star cities Copenhagen and Amsterdam. We start with a better natural base than most any city in the world. And we have a Mayor, as does Paris, that believes in bikes. Let’s build on that, make this a better place to live for our residents, give our embattled work force a cost saving and safer option than having to own a car to get around and attract the eco-friendly kind of tourists who appreciate a car-free experience. Key West wins by investing more in bicycling.

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You can find a year’s plus KONK Life Streets for People column articles here and here and the most recent 2022 stories below:

Chris Hamilton is founder of the local advocacy group Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. He’s a native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led nationally renowned efforts promoting transit, bike, walk and smart growth for Arlington County, VA’s DOT. Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a few non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here and his blog here.

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