Bicycle commuting down slightly, but big cities make gains

Fewer people traveled to work by bicycle in 2010 than the year before, the US Census Bureau reports, although bicycle use has skyrocketed over the past decade.

Data in the American Community Survey released recently show that 731,286 Americans used a bicycle as a primary source of transportation for commuting last year; that's down 4% from the previous year.

In the 70 largest cities, however, bicycle use rose 1% in the past year. More than half of those 70 largest cities have been judged as bicycle friendly cities by the League of American Bicyclists.

Car-pooling and public transportation also experienced slight drops (.3% and .1%, respectively), while those who drove alone rose by a .5%.

The League touted the huge 39% overall increase in bicycle commuting in the past decade, most of which has come in the past five years. Further, the 70 top cities saw a 63% increase in bicycle commuting in the past decade, showing that bicycle use as transportation is making an impact where it really counts.

The bicycle commuting numbers are very small, however, when compared to the total working adults. In 2010, .53% of commuting adults used a bicycle as their primary source of transportation. In the 70 top cities, 1% used a bicycle.

The League points out there are some caveats to remember that might skew the results:

— The results include only commuting, not bicycling for errands or other uses.
— The results are based on a sample.
— Respondents are asked their primary form of commuting transportation in the past week. If they combine bicycle and public transportation, the longest distance is the one counted; the bicycle has to be used a majority of days to be counted.

College towns lead the way

Here are the top 20 bicycle commuting cities of the 375 cities in the report, as compiled by the League. You'll notice that most are home to large colleges or universities. We can hope it shows a trend for the future:

1. Davis, California   22.1%
2. Boulder, Colorado 9.9%
3. Eugene, Oregon    8.3%
4. Berkeley, California     8.0%
5. Cambridge, Massachusetts  6.8%
6. Santa Barbara, California   6.4%
7. Madison, Wisconsin     6.0%
8. Gainesville, Florida    6.0%
9. Portland, Oregon     6.0%
10. Iowa City, Iowa     5.6%
11. Chico, California    5.5%
12. Missoula, Montana     5.4%
13. Flagstaff, Arizona    5.1%
14. Miami Beach, Florida    5.0%
15. Pasadena, California      4.8%
16. Fort Collins, Colorado   4.4%
17. Mountain View, California     4.1%
18. Boise, Idaho 3.9%
19. Seattle, Washington     3.6%
20. Somerville, Massachusetts   3.6%

Top 10 of the 70 largest cities:

1. Portland, OR  6.0%
2. Seattle, WA  3.6%
3. San Francisco, CA  3.5%
4. Minneapolis, MN   3.5%
5. Washington, DC 3.1%
6. Tucson, AZ  3.0%
7. Sacramento, CA  2.5%
8. Denver, CO  2.2%
9. Tampa, FL  1.9%
10. Philadelphia, PA   1.8%

Interestingly, Tampa is the only city on that list of 10 that is not a bicycle-friendly city. However, it experienced the largest growth in bicycle commuting in the past year — more than double at 121%. You might also remember that the area had six bicycling deaths over a 10 week period in the fall of 2010.

Portland experienced the biggest gains — 238% — over the decade, followed by Washington DC at 169%.

See “Bicycle commuting rates in cities in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho”.

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