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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Where the bike commuters are, mapped & analyzed

Kaid Benfield

Posted August 10, 2012 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably

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  rates of bicycling by state (by: League of American Bicyclists)

Check out this map produced by the League of American Bicyclists and posted on the graphics site Visual.ly.  The fonts are small - this image looks intended for a wall, not a computer - but look closely:  the darker the state, the larger the share of total trips taken by bicycle, as opposed to driving, walking, or transit; the larger the maroon and yellow box, the larger the number of people commuting to work by bicycle.  You can see that California, followed by Florida and New York, have the largest number of bike commuters.  But, when you go by mode share - the portion of total trips taken by bike - the leading states appear to be Colorado, Oregon, and (improbably?) Montana.  It is hard to tell for sure, but I believe the data came from multiple sources, including the US Census’s American Community Survey.

The map also indicates (in tiny print) the country’s ten cities with the highest mode share for bicycling.  Unsurprisingly, Portland ranks first; but I might not have guessed that Minneapolis is second, especially given that city’s notorious winter weather.  A larger version of the map contains additional graphics (two excerpted below, with small but readable fonts) that show the total numbers for the top ten cities, as well as some other interesting data, including overall spending on cycling infrastructure.

  number of bike commuters in leading cities (by: League of American Bicyclists)

  infrastructure spending trend (by: League of American Bicyclists)

In closely related news, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Resource Center reports research showing that “cities with more bike paths and lanes have significantly higher rates of bike commuting, even when factors that influence cycling rates – such as weather, cycling safety, degree of sprawl, and the price of gasoline – are taken into account.”  The findings in this study of 90 cities, conducted by Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech and John Pucher of Rutgers and published in the journal Transportation, are consistent with earlier datra showing that cycling activity increased in Portland in the corridors where the city added bike lanes. 

Of the cities included in the Buehler-Pucher study, Portland, Madison, Minneapolis, Boise, and Seattle had the highest percentages of bike commuters.  (I suspect the top performers differ somewhat from the cities highlighted in the LAB graphic because the mode-share numbers in the graphic include non-work trips.)

  bicycling in Vancouver, WA (courtesy of PedBikeImages/Jennifer Campos)

Finally for today, a new study from the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State (conducted in collaboration with other researchers) posits that the key to bike commuting by so-called “level two” cyclists – those who will ride if car traffic is minimal – is a low-stress, well-connected and relatively direct route.  (As with walking, street connectivity - relatively frequent intersections, few dead-ends - is hugely important.)

That may seem a bit of a tautology, but what could prove useful from the study is that the analysts mapped every street in San Jose according to “traffic stress,” classifying them into four levels.  They found that only about five percent of shorter (under six miles) work trips in San Jose could currently be accomplished on low-stress (levels one and two) streets, but “this figure would almost triple” if a proposed slate of modest improvements in “strategically placed segments that provide low-stress connectivity across barriers were implemented.”  If additional analysts and transportation planners find the traffic-stress classification to be useful, it could become an asset in bike route mapping in other cities.

  San Jose streets mapped for ease of cycling (courtesy of Mineta Transportation Institute)

Bicycling remains a small part of most American cities’ transportation profiles, especially in comparison to world leaders such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  But there is little question that it is gaining in popularity, especially in places that are supporting the trend with investment in cycling infrastructure.

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Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment, here and in the national media.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.

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Comments

Fenno HoffmanAug 10 2012 10:46 AM

Thanks again, Kaid, for gathering a variety of related pieces of another puzzle. think the fashion piece is another hurdle in the states. The spandex bike racer suits that fanatics wear, don't fit (in any way) the majority of potential riders, who have no intention of becoming triatheletes, or interest in standing out from the crowd, and whose very normal human lumps and bumps and sags and all, are not flattered by Spandex.
Business casual doesn't really work either, and showers and changing at work is equally unusual and adds yet another complication to the alternative commute, sitting in a great, conditioned/heated, car, sipping a coffee, eating a donut, listening to music/news on the 14 speaker stereo, etc. as we drive to work. When is somebody going to make comfy clothes that work for riding and the rest of the day too?
levis makes a "commuter" line of clothes, but I think they are aimed at the 20 somethings.
whenever I am in europe I see bicyclists that look like everyone else, dressed in normal clothes. in the states most bicyclists are dressed strangely. this weird fashion doesn't help the activity get adopted by many people. Yetyet wearing our normal business casual clothes doesn't work either, because so many of our riding distances are longer than a few blocks to paris or amsterdam

Fenno HoffmanAug 10 2012 10:56 AM

*typo, "a few blocks IN Paris or Amsterdam"

Christopher ForinashAug 10 2012 11:57 AM

Here's an excellent new piece of cycling "infrastructure" from the innovators at OpenPlans.org (and probably their excellent conspirators at BikeArlington.com) - BikePlanner.org allows you to map a ride based on self-defined priorities on speed, climb, and safety. It even includes Capital Bikeshare stations with real-time availability info! Check it out at http://mobilitylab.org/2012/08/09/bikeplanner-org-a-new-community-based-trip-routing-tool/

Karl HartkopfAug 10 2012 02:01 PM

Perhaps the crazy extractive industry job growth, lack of housing and resulting "man camps" have something to do with the seemingly strange Montana biking rate. And $1,000 parking spots. See http://www.npr.org/2011/09/25/140784004/new-boom-reshapes-oil-world-rocks-north-dakota for more.

h hokanAug 10 2012 06:19 PM

That first graphics was mentioned by, but not produced by the LAB. It was the effort of a student at the University of Oregon. The first posting that I know about was at WeBikeEugene:

http://www.webikeeugene.org/2011/03/07/bicycle-commuter-trends-in-the-us-graphic-representation/

Jody BrooksAug 11 2012 02:41 AM

What about crowdsourcing bike counts via the GPS websites like Strava?

The data is extremely detailed.

Right now, it is dominated by sport riders and their courses but increasingly bike commuters are logging their trips as well.

Once done, it is trivial to query aggregate data for a given "segment" and chart it.

Here's is more background on that and some charts: http://www.planbike.com/2012/07/donate-your-data-make-every-ride-vote_30.html

Please send any suggestions for boosting adoption of the practice amongst bike commuters. So far, local bike coalitions have been a big help.

Kaid @ NRDCAug 13 2012 03:29 PM

Hmmm, I'm wondering if I should feel insulted as a spandex-wearing "fanatic" and "sport rider." :) Thanks for adding your perspectives.

Joe ColoradoAug 14 2012 11:42 AM

It's odd that Colorado is has a dark shade, which indicates a high percentage, but there are no details either at the state or city level. I wish it included more detail on Colorado and the Denver area.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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