Bicycle Commuting Gains Traction In Cities

Many city dwellers are opting to ride their bikes to work. See data for your area on our interactive map.
by | April 11, 2012 AT 4:30 PM

Many commuters living in growing urban areas are opting to ride bikes to work as an alternative to congested roads and higher gas prices.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show about 730,000 Americans bike to work as their primary means of transportation, a 50 percent increase from 2000. This shift is most prevalent in large metro areas, with Denver; Portland, Ore.; and Washington, D.C., among cities reporting the largest gains in bicyclists.

Bicycle commuting varies greatly throughout the country, typically being more common in densely populated areas. College towns, in particular, report high numbers of cyclists.

Davis, Calif., boasts the highest percentage of bicycle commuters, with cyclists accounting for 22 percent of workers. The city is home to a large University of California campus and the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame.

The following 10 cities have the largest percentages of commuters riding bicycles to work, according to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey:

City Population Total Workers Estimated Bike Commuters Percentage Bicycle Commuters (Margin of Error)
Davis, Calif. 65,740 27,689 6,131 22.1% +/-1,891
Boulder, Colo. 97,585 50,091 4,973 9.9% +/-1,394
Eugene, Ore. 156,299 69,713 5,770 8.3% +/-1,297
Berkeley, Calif. 112,824 48,323 3,845 8.0% +/-932
Cambridge, Mass. 105,337 56,075 3,807 6.8% +/-1,013
Santa Barbara, Calif. 88,579 42,253 2,695 6.4% +/-1,046
Madison, Wis. 233,777 127,566 7,692 6.0% +/-1,522
Gainesville, Fla. 124,433 54,002 3,214 6.0% +/-1,224
Portland, Ore. 585,429 286,228 17,035 6.0% +/-2,267
Iowa City, Iowa 68,027 37,616 2,093 5.6% +/-1,062

Overall, only a small share of Americans – less than 1 percent – bike to work.

The survey only measures the primary means of commuting to work for those age 16 and older. Survey participants are asked to record a single response based on the longest commute distance, so those riding bikes to subways would count only as public transportation commuters.

Darren Flusche, policy director for the League of American Bicyclists, said commutes to work do not account for most bicycle trips. Recreational use and making short trips to nearby shops and restaurants are more common, he said.

A few cities near the top of the list for cyclists defy conventional wisdom. Despite its harsh winters, an estimated 3.5 percent of Minneapolis workers ride bikes. Flusche said he was also surprised San Francisco, with its hilly landscape, ranked high with similar counts.

“Any community can do it. It’s just a question of making the investment,” he said.

Flusche cited Tucson, Ariz., as one city benefiting from constructing more bicycle lanes.

“They’re doing a lot to become a destination and a real bicycle-friendly place,” he said.

The League of American Bicycles advocates communities become more bike-friendly, offering multiple steps to encourage cycling. Flusche said constructing streets accommodating cyclists and setting lower speed limits are key. He also recommends outreach efforts and involvement of public officials to raise the profile of cycling.

Alternative Means of Transportation Map

Governing compiled 2010 American Community Survey estimates for means of transportation to work for more than 400 U.S. cities, towns and other census-designated places.

Larger icons represent higher total percentages of workers who either walk, bike, use public transportation or another alternate means of commuting to work.

Zoom in or drag to pan the map, then click a marker to display a city's 2010 estimates. Please note that some cities had significantly high margins of error, as indicated in parentheses.

(Click map to open fullscreen map in new window)