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2012 American Community Survey indicates upward bicycling trend nationwide

smithfield People riding over the Smithfield St Bridge

After a year of small investments in bike infrastructure, Pittsburgh’s 2012 bicycling mode share stays the same

The US Census just posted their American Community Survey (ACS) transportation stats for 2012. According to the League of American Bicyclists, bike commuter rates are up nationwide, with a large jump in the number of women who are biking to work.

Not surprisingly, bikeway networks, especially of the physically separated variety, greatly increase the percentage of bicyclists in a city. As we haven’t invested very much in bike infrastructure, outside of some bike lanes and sharrows, it’s not surprising that Pittsburgh stayed basically the same in bicycling mode share: 1.4%.

Below are some cities that have made it a point to invest heavily in building bike lanes and physically separated facilities, while also enacting policies and programs to encourage bicycling.  The 2011/2012 results speak for themselves.

  • Washington: 3.2%/4.1%, +28%
  • Seattle: 3.5%/4.1%, +17%
  • Philadelphia: 1.8%/2.3%, +28%
  • Honolulu: 1.2%/2.3%, +92%
  • San Francisco: 3.4%/3.8%, +12%
  • New York: 0.8%/1.0%, +25%
  • Boston: 1.7%/2%, +18%
  • Chicago: 1.4%/1.6%, +14%

Incredibly, Pittsburgh has a higher mode share for bicycling, than 10 other cities have for transit.

Portland nudged out Pittsburgh this year for the “biking+walking” mode share, dropping us to the 6th highest level of commuting by bike and by foot in the nation (of the largest 60 cities). We’re in pretty good company with only Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle having a larger biking and walking mode share.

Also, with 17.2 percent of our workers using transit, Pittsburgh has the 10th highest percentage of transit commuters in the country, however there is an indication of a downward trend.

If you add up all of the categories considered “active transportation,” walking + biking + transit, Pittsburgh still places in the top 10 cities in the nation, coming in at a respectable 8th (see table below).

For comparison’s sake, Pittsburgh’s numbers in 2006 were as follows:

  • 18th place for bike commuters
  • Biking: 0.8
  • Walking: 12.4
  • Transit: 21.1
  • Drove Alone: 53.1
  • No car available: 14.7

We’ve been reporting about the ACS data for the seventh year in a row (2006) (2007) (2008) (2009) (2010) (2011).

While not perfect, the ACS data is the best data available to help us understand trends in the United States. In this series, we’re specifically looking to find out “what is the primary way that Pittsburgh residents get to their job (wherever that may be)?” And of course, because we love cities, not to mention a friendly competition, we’ve included the largest 60 cities in our analysis. This is not a sample of “how many Pittsburghers ride bikes.” For instance, if you take the bus to your job, but ride a bicycle the rest of the time, you are counted as “transit.” Likewise if you ride a bicycle 3 days and drive 2 days, you are counted as “bicycle.” And if you have no job, are under 16, or are a student, well you’re just not counted. Although this is most likely the best data that we have available on this subject, please see the caveats at the end of this post regarding the ACS data.

Primary means of commuting to work

Click on the tabs at the bottom of the chart to toggle between modes

Top 20 Car-Free Commuting Cities

Click on the tabs at the bottom of the chart to toggle between modes

What is the American Community Survey?

The American Community Survey is the country’s largest household survey, reporting its findings every year.  With a sample size of about 3 million addresses, this is only an estimate, but is by far the best tool that we have understanding trends in the United States.  The survey uses questionnaires and interviews to gather information on demographic, economic, and housing characteristics.

ACS limitations, notes, and cautions

  • The ACS asks only about commuting. It does not tell us about bicycling for non-work purposes.
  • Results are based on a survey of a sample of the population. Surveys take place throughout the year. The journey to work question asks respondents about the previous week.
  • The journey to work question asks about the primary mode of transportation to work. The wording of the question undercounts the actual amount of bike commuting that occurs. It does not count people who rode once or twice a week or people who bike to transit (if the transit leg is longer than the bike leg).
  • Since the ACS is a survey of a sample, the results are estimates. The ACS releases a margin of error along with the estimate. Users can add and subtract the margin of error value from the estimate to find the top and bottom of the range within which the ACS is 90 percent confident in their estimate lies. Margins of error are reported on with the data on the ACS site.
  • Changes among years may not be statistically significant.
  • The numbers reported here are for the “principal city,” not the larger Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

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2 Responses to “2012 American Community Survey indicates upward bicycling trend nationwide”

  1. [...] highest level of commuting by bike and by foot in the nation (of the largest 60 [...]

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