Bike Commuting Holding Steady

According to the League of American Bicyclists’ analysis of the recently released 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), national bike commuting rates held steady from 2008 to 2009 at 0.55%. From the LAB report:

Despite predictions that the number of Americans biking to work would fall after gas prices returned to ‘normal’ in 2009, the percentage has held steady at 0.55 percent. The Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC) among the 70 largest cities also held steady with a 1 percent increase, while non-BFCs increased their commuter share by 26 percent. BFC cities still have on average about twice the percentage of commuters as non-BFC cities.

The League used the ACS data to pull together a pair of tables (linked below) showing estimated bike commuting rates for the 70 largest U.S. cities, as well as the estimated percentage of change in bike commuting rates from 2000 to 2009.

Bike commuting rates for the 70 largest U.S. cities [PDF] →
Percentage of change in bike commuting rates from 2000 to 2009 [PDF] →
ACS 2009 Data Release

9 Responses to “Bike Commuting Holding Steady”

  • Sharper says:

    I know a lot of locals are hemming and hawing about Sacramento’s seven place slide in the newest data, but it’s not like 3% is exactly a number to trumpet, either.

    I’d like to see commute rates set up alongside unemployment and poverty figures in the various cities, too — see if there’s a correlation between bicycle commuting and employment or wealth. Maybe I can crunch the numbers if I have a slow work day tomorrow…

  • Logan says:

    Great news! Thanks Alan! :)

  • Fergie348 says:

    Wow. With all the infrastructure improvements made in places like Portland and Minneapolis and San Francisco I can’t look at these numbers as anything less than epic failure.

    6% is the best we can do in any metropolitan area in the country? When the goal is 20% and we can’t do better than 6% with a world class biking network you have to wonder what it will take..

  • Alan says:

    @Fergie348

    “When the goal is 20% and we can’t do better than 6% with a world class biking network you have to wonder what it will take..”

    Not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but we need higher gas prices if the summer of 2008 was any indication.

    Alan

  • Fergie348 says:

    Yes, sustained higher gas prices may help a little but clearly we need an order of magnitude shift that probably can’t be produced by price increases alone. Just look at the numbers from your attached documents:

    31 largest BFC average for bicycle commuter modal share:
    2007 – 1.16%
    2008 – 1.43%
    2009 – 1.45%

    Average gas prices for the same periods (from DOE website):
    2007 – $2.84/Gal
    2008 – $3.30/Gal
    2009 – $2.41/Gal

    If we were to completely ascribe the rise in bicycle modal share from 2007 to 2008 to the increase in fuel costs (which is a stretch to be sure), that equates to a .27% mode share increase from a 46 cent per gallon average rise in the cost of fuel. Which would mean that to gain 1% modal share, we’d need to increase the cost of fuel by $1.70 per gallon.

    If we set a modest target among ‘Bicycle Friendly Cities’ of 10% mode share and we thought that fuel costs were the driving factor and the progression linear then we’d need to see gasoline at $17.42 per gallon to achieve it. Good luck with that. There must be another way..

  • Alan says:

    @Fergie348

    Thanks for crunching those numbers. While I appreciate what you’re getting at, I don’t think the effect gas prices have on human behavior is linear, or even logical.

    I’m making assumptions based upon my anecdotal experience. When gas prices in California rose above $4 per gallon in the summer of 2008, bikes were literally piled up on our local commuter trains and every bike locker in the county was spoken for. By spring of the next year, gas was down to just under $2 per gallon, and the armies of new bike commuters disappeared as fast as they arrived. It was a powerful lesson that I won’t soon forget.

    Alan

    PS – The people I know who work in the bike industry experienced the same thing that I described above; excellent growth in 2008, followed by slowing sales and excess inventory by early the following year.

  • Jay says:

    The US is big, and land is cheap, and has been for quite a while. Think of the settlers – people spread as much as they could, as fast as they could. People didn’t try to recreate dense European cities in America (with high rates of disease, the lack of indoor plumbing and sewage in the streets, I can’t say I blame them).

    So, much of how our society developed was based on the ability to spread out, and the rise of the automobile made that easier than ever before. Sprawl is hard when your country is tiny.

    All of this is to say, you can’t expect changes to dense communities with high biking rates overnight – we’ve been on one path for quite a while, so change will be relatively gradual.

  • Fergie348 says:

    @Jay,

    Land sure isn’t cheap where I live. Hasn’t been for almost 40 years. It hasn’t stopped the local planning authorities from designing communities around the concept of personal transportation encapsulated in the automobile. I’m currently trying to get a bike lane attached to a street that was created when the local railroad was ripped out. We had more public transportation in Marin county (and much of northern California) in the 1940’s than we do now..

    I agree with your basic premise that large swaths of this country are lightly populated and we won’t see anything like the european model of development, but that doesn’t change the fact that the densely populated areas of our country lag their European counterparts in cycling mode share by a factor of 10 or more.

    Why is this? It’s not directly attributable to infrastructure differences or financial incentives – as far as I can tell it’s a cultural phenomenon. Americans see bikes as sporting equipment or toys for children, and Europeans are more likely to see them as tranportation. Not sure how to change that, but blogs like this probably help.

  • Fergie348 says:

    Per my previous post, the bicycle industry certainly hasn’t helped with the perception of bikes as sporting equipment or toys for children. That’s how they’ve been sold by the mainstream brands for decades.

    I no longer believe the theory that until we build more infrastructure for bikes that people won’t take them seriously. As a society, we need to put bicycles in the same context that cars were put in when the big automobile expansion period began in the 1940’s. They’re personal freedom machines that are highly useful for getting people from one place to another.

    They deserve to be treated the same way that cars were at that time and are today. That means useful models and options packages and financing offered at the point of sale. That also means tax equality with respect to parking, it may also mean some sort of registration and licensing scheme. It certainly will take time, but we can agree up front about the framework and context within which we should proceed.

 
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