Wausau Ranked Top Small City for Cycling in the US and #2 for All Cities!

People for Bikes released their 2018 ranking of 480 communities across the United States, and they rated Wausau the #1 small city and as the 2nd best place overall to bike in the country. Madison also made the top ten, placing 8th overall, and 3rd best for large cities.

The announcements and awards were made Wednesday at the second annual Places for Bikes Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Wisconsin had a number of Bike Fed staff and local advocates attending the conference.

“I’m excited to see the people of Wausau getting recognition for all of their hard work to make the City more bicycle friendly, and this couldn’t have been done without the work and support of the community here” said Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke.

Representatives from Wausau were at the conference to receive their award. This new scoring system is all based on data, and does not require a community to submit an application like the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Community program does. There is a community survey and a City Snapshot Form that local leaders need to fill out, but the score is mostly based on data points and an algorithm with 184 calculations, all of which is done by the staff at People for Bikes.

With their new investments in the Sylvan Hills Mountain Bike Park, more trails to come, The Bike Fed had asked Wausau if they wanted to host the Wisconsin Bike Summit this year, but they asked to hold off a year until they get finish some of the cool new projects they are working on. Wausau also has added quite a few signature cycling events, such as Open Streets Wausau, Bike Fun Wausau and has plans to expand their on-street bike route system.

With all the great things going on and this new national recognition, it makes even more sense for the Bike Fed to try to hold the 2019 Bike Summit in Wausau.

“Unique trails like the Sylvan Hill Bike Park really add value to the community and help to elevate Wausau as a great place to ride a bike” said Aaron Ruff, Vice President of the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition.

Wausau scored extremely well in the Safety, Network, Reach and Acceleration categories, and decent in the Ridership category. The Places for Bikes ranking system those five categories, to give Cities a rating of 1-5 stars compared to the Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond ratings in the Bicycle Friendly Communities Program. At this point, no community in the US has four or five stars, while there are a number of Platinum communities in the LAB system.

“In the past twenty years of commuting to work on my bike, my commute has become easier and safer” according to Susan Schmidt, a local bicycle commuter and former member of the Wausau Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

The Places for Bikes rates the streets with a Bicycle Network Analysis tool, that judges streets for low-stress riding, connectivity, and access to key destinations. Smaller communities like Wausau, benefit because they often have a grid network of low-traffic streets with low posted speed limits. Everything in blue indicates good roads for bicycling. “Wausau has a well-connected network of low speed and low traffic local streets, many of which do not need special bike infrastructure to be comfortable and safe, and because of this Wausau scored well in both network and safety,” according to City of Wausau Assistant Planner Brad Sippel.

Despite having close to 120 miles of bike lanes, larger cities like Milwaukee that have much higher traffic volumes have to do more than install painted bike lanes to create a network that scores well with the BNA rating. For large urban cities, People for Bikes is feels protected bike lanes are needed on arterials and safe street networks on the lower volume side streets with improved crossings at the arterials are needed.


Madison, which has more trails in urban areas that access key destinations, a bicycle boulevard and a protected bike lane on University Avenue, scored pretty well on their Bicycle Network Analysis.

This Places for Bikes rating system remains new. People for Bikes have suggestions here for communities who feel their score might not be accurate. You can read more about how the system works and their plans for the future in this People for Bikes blog post.



About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

2 thoughts on “Wausau Ranked Top Small City for Cycling in the US and #2 for All Cities!

  1. Congrats to Wasau and Madison! Everyone who wants to learn more about the Bicycle Network Analysis should attend the WI Bike Summit tomorrow. Spencer Gardner and I will be giving a presentation about the tool and about how it can be used for local advocacy.

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