New Data Shows Where Americans Bike to Work

Recent census data indicates bicycle commuting has jumped in some cities far more than others. View interactive data maps for more than 400 localities.
by | October 16, 2012
 

New census data highlights areas of the country where people are more likely to strap on their helmets and bike to work.

Nationwide, more than 777,000 people rode bicycles as their primary means of traveling to work last year, according to the Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey.

In most areas, cyclists accounted for only a small share of all commuters. Last year, they made up an estimated 0.56 percent of U.S. working adults, a rate that has remained relatively stable in recent years. Cyclists accounted for 0.53 percent of commuters in 2010 and 0.55 percent in 2009, according to the survey.

Some urban areas, though, are home to far greater numbers of cyclists than others. More than 5 percent of working adults reported biking to work in at least sixteen cities surveyed with populations exceeding 65,000. An estimated 16.6 percent of Davis, Calif., workers bike to their jobs, more than any other city in the country.

The following map shows the prevalence of biking to work for more than 400 cities and other Census-designated places surveyed. Larger icons represent cities where those who primarily bike to work accounted for higher shares (not raw numbers) of total commuters in 2011. (Open a full-screen interactive map or view data below)

Click to open map

Measuring how many people regularly ride bikes is no easy task, and the Census survey represents rough estimates, accordingly. It’s important to note the methodology undercounts the number of commuters biking at any point during their trip to work. Respondents are asked to record a single transportation type for the longest distance traveled. So, those riding to public transportation stations or only biking to work once or twice a week wouldn’t count as bicycle commuters.

What’s more, Darren Flusche, policy director for the League of American Bicyclists, points out more ride for reasons other than strictly commuting to work.

The following table lists 2011 estimates for cities and other CDPs with populations more than 65,000. Please note that these are estimates, many of which have high margins of error:

Growth in cycling is far more noticeable in some areas than others. The League of American Bicyclists found a particularly sharp increase in bicycle commuting over the decade for cities receiving its “Bicycle Friendly Community” designation, including Portland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

“The places that are making investments in cycling have seen dramatic growth,” Flusche said.

Regional cultures and perceptions of cycling also play a role in its popularity. Flusche said many individuals don’t ever consider cycling as a potential option for traveling to work, which may also suppress the totals. “It’s just in the last 10 or 20 years that cities have started making these investments, so it’s a slow process in making [cycling] part of our everyday experience of how we get around,” he said.

Another map below (open full-screen version) shows areas of the country where bicycle commuting increased the most over the past five years. Larger map icons represent cities increasing or decreasing the most in terms of raw numbers of commuters primarily biking to work, as measured in the 2011 and 2006 American Community Survey. Green cities saw increases, red cities declined and yellow markers represent no estimated change over the five-year period.

Click to open map

Again, please keep in mind that most of these totals are very small, so changes often fall within the margin of error. You'll also notice many of the most populous cities recorded the largest gains in bicycle commuters.

For additional data, please see our previous maps illustrating public transportation commuting and walking to work.

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