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In Davis’ Platinum City Even the Munchkins Ride Bikes

With New York City recently scoring a medallion for "Bronze Achievement in Bicycling Direction" by the "LAB Academy" (you like us! you really like us!) we figured it was a good time to post our very brief StreetFilms visit to Davis, California back in August 2007. Even though Portland, Oregon is nipping at their heels, Davis is still the only city in America to attain the very prestigious Platinum status for overall bicycle friendliness in a city.

Credit for Davis's bike-friendliness goes back to the 1960's when forward-thinking University of California urban planners began thinking about ways to make it safe and convenient for college students and city residents to travel safely by bike. During an era when most California towns were focused on building freeways, strip malls and suburban arterials, Davis's planning wizards were developing off-street greenways, bike lanes and installing bike racks everywhere.

In the last decade, an influx of car-commuters moving to Davis from nearby Sacramento and San Francisco has decreased the bike commuting mode share from 25 percent to 18 percent. Still, Davis remains an amazing place to use a bike for transportation. Any place that has eliminated school buses and have children riding bikes to school is doing something right. And check this out -- Davis has its own Wiki page devoted to bicycling.

Now click your heels four times and repeat after me, "There's no place like Davis. There's no place like Davis. There's no place..."

[intro music]

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [00:07] As you can see behind me, welcome to Davis, California. This is the only Platinum bicycle city in America as designated by the League of American Bicyclist, and what that shows is a unprecedented level of commitment to bicycling and making cyclists feel safe.


David Tokemoto-Weerts: [00:31] Living in Davis, of course bicycling is such a great way to get around town because Davis is sort of an urban island, a sea of agriculture. The longest one way commute within the city of Davis is going to be about five miles, and that’s only, you know, from one end of town to the other, so that’s a very, you know, workable distance for most people. The city is flat, there’s hills except for a couple of overpasses. The weather is typically pretty mild. And the city and the campus back in the 1960’s decided to build on those advantages and started building, you know, putting bike lanes on streets, building bike paths, putting in bike racks everywhere.

Ruth Asmundson: [01:11] For a long, long time there were actually more bicycles than people in Davis. And the ridership used to be 25% of the people ride their bicycle to and from work. And now it’s down to 17%, but it’s still higher than the rest of the country because the average ridership in the country is 1%.

Don Saylor: [01:31] We started a Bicycle Advisory Commission about a year ago so that we can not just rest on the laurels of what we’ve done so far, but to keep getting better and better.

Kelly Foley Stachowicz: [01:40] As a recreational cyclist and a mother of two young children we can go as a family pretty much anywhere in town, whether it’s going to the kids’ schools or going to a park or visiting friends, we can do that all together and we can do it safely and we can do it with great enjoyment.


Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [02:15] So even out here in the outskirts of Davis the city has made amenities so that if you do want to bicycle to get around, to go to Downtown, you can. Point to point Davis, California most strips aren’t more than five miles, so what the goal has been has to make sure that anywhere you live, you can get on a bicycle if you don’t want to get in your car to get to your destination. So even in the most rural areas you’ll find greenways and bike lanes and bike amenities that help you to get to wherever you might want to go.

Robert P. St. Cyr: [02:49] It’s a relaxed pace here and the bike lanes that run through the whole city, there’s greenbelts everywhere so that it’s been incorporated into the planning of the city for several decades.

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [03:01] So in between UC Davis campus and the city, the town itself, there are a number of these bollards that have been placed, they’re like diagonal diverters. These streets have been designated bicycle priority streets. They’re not bicycle boulevards but they have the same feel of them.

Don Saylor: [03:19] About five years ago we opened up an under-crossing, a brand new under-crossing underneath an interstate highway, interstate 80, that connects our community one… from one southern end to the northern end so that people don’t have to go out on the vehicle off ramps.


Shaman Van Gelder: [03:38] The idea there is to empower people to be able to maintain and have their own bicycle. Myself, and I think a lot of other people, who are invested here feel that bicycles are freedom. In a way it’s a revolution.


Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [03:57] So here we are at another very cool bicycle amenity in Davis. This is the Dave Pell Bicycle crossing, and this shows Davis’s commitment to bike and pedestrian access. This bridge crosses over the Amtrak tracks and I80. It was constructed as one of many bike facilities in Davis that go over or under very complicated crossings for bikes or pedestrians. So once again Davis showing their Platinum status by going the extra mile.

Kelly Foley Stachowicz: [04:29] My kids have asked me before what those big yellow things are, and normally we call them school buses. We don’t have them in Davis. So kids have to bike to school or walk to school, use their energy up in sort of proactive ways. This makes for a lifestyle that’s pretty convenient. You don’t have to rely on your car if you don’t want to, and certainly with the price of gas these days it makes it a lot less expensive and healthy as well.


Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [05:04] We’re standing here at the corner of Wesleyan and Sycamore, one of the tougher intersections for pedestrians or bikes to actually get across here cos the school’s over here, a lot of people live over here. So one of the great things they’ve done here in Davis is over the years they did a lot of experimentation and one of the things they’re credited with doing was to use the bicycle signal and there’s actually debate this maybe the first bicycle signal in all of the US. It’s easy to use. So all you do is you come over here, you press the bike signal and then as you can see, you can drive your bike across. You could also use the in-ground bike sensors also to activate the light, and what that does is it stops cars in all directions. There’s actually a warning sign to cars not to make a right hand turn into the cyclist, and you cross.

David Takemoto-Weerts: [05:46] The relationship between bicyclists and motorists for example in this town is better than any place I’ve ever ridden and I’ve taken my bike to lots of, you know, other bicycle friendly communities around the country and really nothing matches Davis.

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [05:59] $370.00, that’s how much it’ll cost you if you go through a red light in Davis. And to back it all up, you don’t even need cops or people standing here, they use photo enforcement. One of the things that makes Davis such a wonderful community to live in is it’s commitment to open space and public gathering areas. But also it’s traffic calming not only for bicyclists but for pedestrians. What the city of Davis has done in the Downtown area is at every major intersection they’ve put in neck-downs, and what they’ve done is they’ve created these gateways for pedestrians. You know where you’re supposed to cross, they’re inviting, they’re green, they’re an alert to drivers that you are entering an area that people are going to be crossing, you better slow down. And they work wonderfully.

Ruth Asmundson: [06:42] We’ve been trying also to make our Downtown more bikeable, more walkable. Bike parking is important for any development. Bike parking, bike lanes, anything that has to do with bicycles.

Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [06:56] When was the last time you saw this much bike parking? At a strip mall. At a Rite Aid. At a school. Outside the bookstore. Taco Bell. The movie theatre. Of course the bike shop. At a Fluffy Donuts.


Clarence Eckerson Jr.: [07:29] So as we say goodbye to the City of Davis, California, I just wanted to point out bicycles are everywhere. The city is in love with bicycles. I also want to thank the Mayor for giving me a little symbol of appreciation. She bestowed me with a lapel pin of Davis, California which, of course, has the bicycle on it. What else would it be? Goodbye, take care.


Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • clarissa

    Cool. Thanks for this look into a neat bike-friendly city.

    That sure was a lot of bike parking everywhere! And how cool that biking can be an understood and expected part of a community's identity.

  • koyote

    I live in Davis, and it's a great place for cyclists, though we've slacked some in recent years- you have to keep pushing and pushing to stay ahead of the SUV invasion.

    To everyone else, you can do it, too!

  • http://worklessparty.org Gordon- vancouver bc

    Dang it almost got tears in my eyes watching this video, I want this type of commitment for the communitys around here. keep the cars where they belong, in the garage.

  • Wes Wausau, WI

    I graduated from UC Davis nearly 30 years ago, and biking has been a part of me ever since. Too bad you didn't film during the school year to show how those traffic circles function and how heavy the bike traffic really is.

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  • brian goldner

    I live in sacramento and I've been to davis
    it seems like davis is not really a city as much as a college town. As a college town, it seems like biking is gonna be popular no matter what...davis has really nice sidewalk bike paths, which are nice for noobs, but kind of suck if you're a seasoned rider, esp. since you're at a huge risk when u reach a crossing or driveway
    further evidence that biking in davis is really just due to the college: once UC Davis instituted Unitrans (great bus service, free for students), biking dropped significantly

    i think we have comparable (if not better) bike facilities in sacramento, but we're an actual city so i think that makes it much more significant

  • Christa

    I went to UC Davis and lived in the town for five years. I didn't think about urban cycling at the time - I just did it because it was easy, convenient and cheap.

    Now that I've moved away, I'm addicted to urban cycling! I can't imagine life without cycling and I expect other cities to be as bike-friendly.

    I imagine a lot of students leave the city with a change in lifestyle.

    I am so grateful to the city and it's fantastic design.

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  • bekz

    davis is such an amazing city
    I've been there for one year but I miss it
    more than any places I've been...
    If i got three wishes, one of them would be going to davis..this video almost made me cry

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  • Lettie

    "Go to customer service mode.  Be good citizens.  Do everything in moderation."
                                                                      -  Lettie and Evelyn Faye Davis  1959 & 1928

  • David From Kansas

    I wish the country will learn from Davis!

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