For the fifth year straight, Washington ranked as the country's most bicycle-friendly state, thanks to policies designed to create alternatives to driving, according to the League of American Bicyclists said.
The advocacy group's Bicycle Friendly State Program ranks the states each year under a series of criteria, from laws and regulations that govern bicycling to policies for accommodating cyclists and infrastructure funding.
In each of the top five states -- Washington, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Colorado and Oregon -- the focus of the respective Departments of Transportation is not only on highways but on accommodating pedestrians, cyclists and transportation on ferries and trains, said Matt Wempe, the league's state and local advocacy coordinator.
Arkansas, considered one of the least safe places for cyclists based on fatalities, was at the bottom of the list. The league's top recommendation was to adopt a statewide bicycle plan and to establish an advisory committee to oversee its implementation.
Washington is considered a model for all other states on using federal funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects. It also earned points for adopting a safe passing and vulnerable road user law, which carries enhanced penalties for motorists who severely injure or kill a cyclist or pedestrian, Wempe said. It also creates a minimum 3-foot "safe passing" distance for cyclists by motorists.
The state also has a "complete streets" policy, which means new roads must be designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, Wempe said.
"Every state says bicycles are treated the same as vehicles, but that needs to be clarified," he said. "We're stressing that bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles, but their needs in terms of infrastructure need to be clarified."
Minnesota, which claimed the No. 2 spot, also has a complete streets policy. The state also earned kudos for its bike-sharing program and plans to expand bike trails along the Mississippi River.
Colorado cracked the top 10 for the first time with qualities that make it a model for other states in terms of traffic laws, Wempe said. It has a safe passing law and a Share the Road Campaign; cyclists are allowed to ride side-by-side. It also has bicycle commuter share of more than 1 percent, more than double the national average.
"We are encouraged to see significant progress in top states like Washington, Minnesota, Colorado and Massachusetts," Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said in a statement.
"But, as the scores clearly highlight, there's much work to be done in critical areas like infrastructure and funding. Overall, we see states -- and especially state Departments of Transportation and state legislatures -- lagging behind cities and the expectations of local cyclists, despite the many well documented benefits of a more active lifestyle."