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Commuting by Bike Was Way Up Last Year

• October 17, 2013 • 9:32 AM

(PHOTO: MRDOGGS/SHUTTERSTOCK)

But it’s still a tiny, tiny percentage of trips compared to cars. And walking is falling.

Some new census figures are out on how Americans get to work. They found commuting by bicycle was up nine percent. It’s probably up more than that: The census only counts you as a “bike commuter” if you pedal to work more than half of your workdays. If you pedal to work only in perfect weather, the 100 days from the end of the cold in March to the start of the heat in June, you don’t count. But three people doing that is nearly a year’s worth of days. However you slice it, the number of people biking to work is up a lot.

The sample found 140 million Americans commuted to work last year. Even the nine percent leap in cyclists only brings bikes to six-tenths of one percent of American commutes.

The raw numbers, which are at the Census Bureau’s website here, show just under 856,000 Americans biking to work at least half the time in 2012. To put that in some perspective, seven million took public transportation, and the overwhelming majority drove cars. The sample found 140 million Americans commuted to work last year. Even the nine percent leap in cyclists only brings bikes to six-tenths of one percent of American commutes. By comparison, 121 million of the 140 million commute trips last year were in a private car or truck. Of those, most drove alone, 107 million of the total 121 million. Only 13 million or so carpooled.

D.C. Streets Blog‘s Tanya Snyder dug in to the numbers to point out that while biking is up, walking to work is falling. Just shy of four million people walked to work in 2012, which Snyder notes is nearly three percent of the total—compared to the barely half of one percent who bike—but that hoofing it has seen “a 28 percent drop in mode share since 1990, when nearly 4.5 million people commuted on foot.”

It’s worth noting the numbers are national, and bike commuting is a local phenomenon. Distances are smaller in cities, where bike commuting is more popular than in rural or suburban areas. The League of American Bicyclists, which tracks commute statistics, notes that the second-highest percentage of bike commuters in any American city is in Minneapolis, where 4.5 percent commute by bike, despite some cold winters. The highest percentage is in, not surprisingly, famously bike-friendly Portland, Oregon, but even there only just over six percent of commutes are by bike. In Los Angeles, the famous hub of American car culture, it’s one percent—still nearly double the national average, and rising each year for the past five, according to the League stats, which you can download (Excel file) here.

Six of the 10 communities with the lowest rates of bike commuting, a tenth of one percent, are in Texas and Oklahoma, according to the League stats. The lowest rated are the Texas cities of Plano and El Paso. Lance Armstrong is from Plano, for whatever that’s worth at this point.

Marc Herman
Marc Herman is a writer in Barcelona. He is the author of The Shores of Tripoli.

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