Fifty Years of Bicycle Policy in Davis, California

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

infrastructure - track, infrastructure - bus/tram lane, planning - route design, ridership - commuting, mode - rail, mode - bike, mode - bike


Work trips, Public policy, Nonmotorized transportation, Journey to work, Innovation, Davis (California), Cyclists, Cycling paths, Cycle tracks, Commuters, Bikeways, Bicyclists, Bicycle usage, Bicycle travel, Bicycle trails, Bicycle routes, Bicycle riders, Bicycle paths, Bicycle lanes, Bicycle facilities, Advocacy groups


Davis, California, has long been known as the bicycle capital of the United States. In the 1960s, citizens lobbied for bike lanes to make bike travel safer. After 2 years of lobbying and 1 year of engineering, Davis created the first bike lanes in postwar America. After 1967, transportation in Davis was oriented toward the bicycle. The city’s Public Works Department staff developed many innovative designs and programs that were fine-tuned in Davis and then exported elsewhere. The university and city worked together on engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement efforts. In the 1980s, greenways were added to the system. Davis now has 50 mi of bike lanes and 50 mi of off-street paths in a 10-square-mi city, making a highly functional bicycle transportation system. However, bicycling levels have decreased since 1990, falling from 28% of work trips in 1980 to 14% in 2000. City and University of California, Davis, staff attribute this to changing demographics, intercity commuting, and increased transit. In addition, during this time, bicycle programs have contracted and infrastructure expansion has slowed. Application of theories of public policy change suggest that the advocacy efforts in the 1960s led to a policy shift emphasizing bicycling that continued through the mid-1990s, when most programs had dwindled or disappeared. In the future, a resurgence in advocacy might reverse the deterioration of bicycle programs and result in increased bicycle use by Davis residents.