What does being 39th mean?

There has been much more media attention paid this year to the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly States rankings, with seemingly every local news program focusing on Rhode Island being ranked 39th among the states and last among New England States.  In trying to come to terms with could be interpreted as an indictment of the effectiveness of bicycle advocates in creating the bicycle friendly environment and living up to the promise we as an organization and volunteers have made, it’s all to easy to question the methodology and numbers.  What does 39th mean?  What if there were scores instead of ranks, what’s the spread of scores for all states?  How much of a difference is there between states?  It’s also hard to reconcile a 39th in bicycle friendliness with being ranked 13th safest state to ride a bicycle in the 2012 Benchmarking Report for Biking and Walking from the Alliance for Biking and Walking.  So what does it mean?

When coupled with Rhode Island’s consistency as being last among New England states for the last 4 years, with rankings of 35, 29 and 28 for 2009 through 2011, it shows that while we enjoy a low rate of injuries and deaths among bicycle users, new people are not adopting the bicycle as a commuting instrument, so our mode-share numbers continue largely unchanged.  Other items that tend to have a positive effect on creating safe environments that encourage and support people using bicycles more aren’t significantly changing from year to year.  Total miles of off-road and on-road accommodation doesn’t increase much year by year with only a few million dollars spent in the state bicycle program.  This all translates to people aren’t seeing the bicycle as a practical addition to their daily lives.