May 15th, 2019

May is National Bike to Work to Month – an annual celebration of active transportation.  The League of American Cyclist created the idea in 1956 as way to promote the benefits of bicycling and to encourage more people to get pedaling.

In the United States, we tend to be hard on ourselves about our rate of biking compared to other countries such as Denmark or the Netherlands.  However, we have several reasons to be celebrating this Bike to Work Month. 

In America, the ranks of cycling commuters and trips taken by bike are growing. In recent years, the number of trips made by bicycle in the US more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in in 2009, according to the National Household Travel Survey

The number of bicycle commuters is also on the rise, especially in what the League of American Bicyclist refers to as a ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’.  In more recent years, biking to work has continued to trend upwards. A study found that between 2000 to 2013, commuting rates in large Bicycle Friendly Communities increased by nearly 105%.

To keep up the momentum, we’re sharing some fun stats about commuting and the benefits of bike infrastructure in the US.

Bike Participation Stats

• From 2000 to 2017, bicycle commuting has seen 43% growth nationwide, bringing the total number of bike commuters to 836,569 (U.S. Census Bureau)

• According to the American Community Survey, the share of commuters cycling to work has slightly dipped in recent years, however, 84% of the 70 largest cities have seen an upward trend in ridership in the last 12 years. 

• Which cities bicycle the most?  Amongst larger cities, Portland, Oregon, had the highest with more than 6% of daily commutes being taken by bike.  According to the Where We Ride study, here are the top 10 larger cities with the highest share of bicycle commuters.

Image via League of America Bicyclist

• Looking at gender, data shows the total number of women bike commuters in 2012 grew to 236,067, which is an almost 11% increase from 2011. More broadly, women commuting by bike has grown by 58.8% since 2006. What’s more, the American Community Survey data shows that the growth in bike commuting by women is outpacing that of men.

(The League of American Bicyclist – Women on A Roll)

Sustainability Benefits

Turns out, biking and commuting can be the best choice for the environment.

• Production: The average bike is made of 15 lbs of steel. Compare that to an average 1,800 lbs of steel to make a car! A bike requires less than 1% steel material to manufacture than a car does. The average bike commuter has an estimated 122 sq/m ecological footprint, while a car driver’s ecological footprint rings in at 1,442 sq/m. All the land and resources needed to produce a bike come to .085% the land and resources needed to produce a car. Credit: Treehugger

• Energy: According to WorldWatch, bicycles use only 35 calories of energy per passenger mile! Compare with cars (which use 1860 calories), buses (920), rail travel (885) and even walking (100), to see that biking really is the ultimate energy-efficient transportation. Credit: WorldWatch

• Space: 6 to 20 bikes can park in a single car parking space in a paved lot. WorldWatch also measures space efficiency: Cars in mixed traffic can accommodate 170 people per hour per one meter-width-equivalent right-of-way, while bikes can accommodate 1500 people. Credit: Planet Green

Economic Benefits

Studies have proven that State and regional districts that have invested in bicycling infrastructure have seen tangible impacts on their local economy for the better and a direct increase in ridership within those communities. Here are just few examples:

• Austin, TX – By shifting traffic from cars to bikes and making it easier to reach transit stops, Austin’s planned protected bike lane network is projected to increase the city’s traffic capacity by about 25,000 trips per day at about the same cost ratio as a single expressway widening. 
(Wilkes, Nathan.  – City of Austin 2014 Bike Plan Update.” Slide 47. “)

• Indianapolis, IN – The value of properties within one block of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail increased 148 percent after construction — more than doubling in value from 2008 to 2015. The $63 million public and private investment helped create $1 billion in additional assessed property value. 
(Indiana University Public Policy Institute  – Assessment of the Impact of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail)

• New York, NY – Protected bike lanes can be part of street redesigns that greatly boost retail performance. After the construction of a protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49 percent increase in retail sales. On other streets in the borough, the average was only 3 percent. 
(NYC DOT, 2012  – Measuring the Street)

A redesign of NYC’s Union Square to include a protected bike lane resulted in 49% fewer commercial vacancies, compared to 5% more throughout Manhattan.
(NYC DOT, 2012  – Measuring the Street)

Philadelphia, PA – After buffered bike lanes were installed on Philadelphia’s Spruce and Pine streets, bike traffic increased 95 percent and the number of people biking on the sidewalks fell 22 percent. 
(Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, 2009  – Bicycle usage up 95% on Spruce and Pike bike lanes)

• San Francisco, CA – One mile of roadway planned through Golden Gate Park is 1,283 times more expensive to San Franciscans than one mile of protected bike lane. 
(San Francisco Bicycle Coalition  – No, protected bike lanes are probably not too expensive for your city to build)

Image via People for Bikes

• Washington, DC – On Washington DC’s first protected bike lanes, bike traffic has been growing seven times faster than the citywide rate. 
(District Department of Transportation, 2009-2013  – How high can they go? DC bike counts show continuing surge in protected lane use)

Increasing the number of bike commuters in the United States will have to be a joint effort between policymakers and the people on the streets. Start today to create the cycling culture you’d like to live in. Write a letter to your local representative to prioritize bike infrastructure. Then, slip on your high heeled shoes or suit up, put your laptop in your bike basket, and cycle to work with a smile. You might inspire someone else to do the same.