An excellent article from the Guardian Newspaper about it.
Sacramento in northern California is a typical American city, in thrall to the car. Twelve miles west is the university city of Davis. It’s not a typical American city; it’s in thrall to the bicycle.
Squint and you could be in the Netherlands: people dot around on bikes. Schoolchildren. Students. Professors. Bank managers. There are bike paths on the University of California Davis campus and in the city, the civic symbol of which is a penny-farthing. Cycling in Davis is not cultish: it’s ordinary, no special clothing required. In most American cities, the modal share for cycling struggles to reach 2%; in Davis it’s 20%. That’s well on the bike path to 25%, the average modal share for cycling in the Netherlands.
The campus, cheek-by-jowl with the city, is car-free. There are excellent rail connections to Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco and, with a free bus service for students and university staff, it’s easy to live without a car in Davis. It’s even easier when your intra-urban travel can also be done swiftly and safely on a bicycle.
In the 1960s and 1970s, when the rest of America was building only for cars, Davis built for bicycles. A heady mix of factors created a bike culture: a pancake-flat topography, dogged citizen activism, and a political buy-in.
Davis didn’t measure bicycle use in the 1960s or 1970s, but, with a share of 30% in 1980, it would be safe to assume the modal share was far higher in the preceding two decades. Legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams catalogued in a 1966 photo series how the Davis campus once hummed with cyclists. One of his black-and-white photographs shows a parking stand with hundreds of bicycles, students riding to and fro on either side. It’s one of the most unAmerican photographs imaginable….
But for all its spacious and separated bicycle paths, its bike parking corrals with free air and use of tools, and its continued self-proclamation as the bicycle capital of America, Davis is becoming less and less of a paradise for pedalling. Cycling’s modal share in the City of Davis dropped to as low as 14 percent in 2007, with the slack taken up by car and public bus use. When, in 2009, the US Bicycling Hall of Fame wanted to relocate from Somerville, New Jersey, it chose Davis but, if Davis thought securing this prestigious body would arrest cycling’s slide, it was mistaken.
Retrieved August 3, 2015 from http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/aug/03/davis-california-the-american-city-which-fell-in-love-with-the-bicycle