Monday, September 26, 2011

Bike Commuting Statistics

The League of American Bicyclists' blog had a post on Friday highlighting data from the Census Bureau regarding bicycle commuting. While the data is by no means new and has been hashed and rehashed in lots of blogs, I wanted to delve into the numbers a little myself. This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the numbers, just a couple things that jump out at me. From the post:
more than half of one percent of American workers use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation to work [...] this number represents nearly 40 percent growth since 2000.
The growth in percentages is good, and I suppose given the tendency in the US to sprawl and build less than bike-friendly roads, even 0.5% isn't too shabby. But, as they point out, lots of work remains to be done to make "our communities truly welcoming to bicyclists".

There is a healthy mix of communities in the top ten or twenty. Davis, CA comes in at 22.4%, by far the highest in the country. Davis is blessed with relatively flat terrain, good weather year round, and some great infrastructure, so it's not a surprise. It's been tops on these kinds of lists for years as far I know. Other cities in the top tier of the rankings may be more surprising to you... places with less hospitable climates like vis-a-vis Davis like Cambridge, Massachusetts; Madison, Wisconsin; Iowa City, Iowa; Missoula, Montana; and Boise, Idaho sprinkled among the top dozen or so and all coming in with over 5% bike commuting rates, with the exception of Boise, which is still at a very respectable 4%.

So, what about the cities in the DC area? Only DC proper makes the list of the 70 largest cities. It comes in fifth nationwide with 3.1% of workers using a bicycle as their primary mode of commuting. Of these 70 biggest cities, it's had the 6th highest percentage growth in bike commuting mode share over the period from 2000 to 2010.

This coincides, probably not by accident, with a commitment from the DC government to expand cycling infrastructure during that time. Miles upon miles of bike lanes have been designated (most visibly the Pennsylvania Avenue lanes, but others as well), new trails have opened (namely the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Union Station eventually to Silver Spring) , Capital Bikeshare was launched, and other experiments like some contraflow lanes and the cycletracks are underway. Several of the items mentioned above weren't completed or implemented until the last year or two, so I would expect that number to grow even more in the coming years as that new infrastructure, particularly CaBi helps to make bike commuting a realistic alternative for many.

Alexandria and Arlington are the only Virginia municipalities in the DC area that are listed in a longer list of 370 cities with over 65,000 residents and available statistics on bike commuting. Arlington comes in at 1.35% bike commuters, and Alexandria at 0.7% in 2010. I'm a little surprised that these municipalities came in as low as they did, since both are making strides to improve cycling infrastructure. But both are relatively well endowed in terms of access to public transportation with Metro running through the heart of both places. Based on the very large number of bikes parked at Braddock Road metro almost any work day I've ever been down there, I'd be curious to see how Alexandria or Arlington stack up in terms of multimodal commuting (e.g., riding to the train station and then taking the train downtown).

A fellow "bike commuter" I know at work would not be counted as such by this survey. She puts her bike on the front rack of the bus from near her house to the Pentagon, and then rides into work from there. For purposes of this survey, she would be counted as a bus/transit commuter, and her bike commute leg would be completely ignored.The expansion of CaBi along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington and perhaps into Alexandria next year will only help the bike commuting numbers. They are also likely to increase the multimodal share, which would not be reflected in these statistics.

Alexandria and Arlington stand up rather favorably to other Virginia cities, though. Only Richmond is higher than Arlington, at 2.2%. Norfolk and Virginia Beach are more or less on par with Alexandria in the ballpark with 0.8% bike commuting. Other Hampton Roads cities listed, with the exception of Portsmouth, were under 0.2%.

There are issues with the data to be sure, large margin of error being one. But overall, other factors tend to underrepresent bike commuting. As LAB points out:
*Results are based on a survey of a sample of the population. Surveys take place throughout the year. The journey to work question asks respondents about the previous week.
*The journey to work question asks about the primary mode of transportation to work. The wording of the question undercounts the actual amount of bike commuting that occurs. It does not count people who rode once or twice a week or people who bike to transit (if the transit leg is longer than the bike leg). [This goes to my point about multimodal commuting.]
So the numbers themselves may not be perfectly derived or representative, but they do provide some valuable insights and are fun to look at. The big takeaway... bike commuting is up nationwide, and more dramatically in certain cities, like DC. Let's work to keep the trend going.

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