By Rachel Dovey.
Davis, California, isn’t the place to be on national Bike to Work Day.
“We set up a breakfast for bike commuters at the park,” says David Takemoto-Weerts, bicycle program coordinator for UC Davis. “Some people stop and eat bagels, but then you look out in the street, and you’ll see hundreds of cyclists just passing on their way to work.”
Translation: Cycling isn’t a once-a-year novelty in the small city, which boasts the country’s highest percentage of bike commuters. According to the League of American Bicyclists, 23.2 percent of Davis’ population bikes to work. That’s roughly three times the percentage of commuters in Portland, Oregon (although because of Portland’s population size — 609,000 compared to Davis’ 66,000 — more people overall travel by bike in the northwestern city). It towers over the national average of 0.6 percent.
Many factors, including a mild climate and flat topography, contribute to that high percentage, but one has particular relevance right now. Several weeks ago,Philadelphia and Paris each closed part of their downtowns to cars. Soon afterward, a Change.org petition calling for more “open streets” weekends in Philadelphia launched and a Slate article urged more cities to try going car free. And Davis did just that — in 1967. For 48 years, 800 acres of the University of California, Davis central campus has been closed to cars.
Technically the university isn’t part of Davis (it abuts the municipality’s southern border), but it is the city’s largest employer. Which means that for roughly 30,000 workers and 35,000 students, a square-mile hub of daily life resembles Philadelphia during Pope Francis’ visit.