Housing Complex

D.C. Bike Commuting More Than Doubled in a Decade


The war on cars appears to be succeeding. (Kidding! There is no war on cars.) According to a report today from the U.S. Census Bureau, an increasing percentage of Washingtonians are walking and biking to work, making D.C. a national leader in foot-propelled commutes.

According to the latest American Community Survey data, collected between 2008 and 2012, 12.1 percent of D.C. residents who work outside the home commute by foot, up slightly from 11.8 percent in 2000. The percentage of bike commuters increased more, rising from 1.2 percent to 3.1 percent. (A Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show poll conducted this year found that 4 percent of likely voters in this spring's Democratic primary commute by bike.)

Those figures make D.C. the large American city (defined as having a population of more than 200,000) with the second-highest proportion of walkers, behind Boston, and the seventh-highest proportion of bikers. The latter category is led by Portland, Ore., followed by Madison, Minneapolis, Boise, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Most large American cities experienced an increase in biking over the past decade. Nationally, the percentage of people who bike to work increased by 60 percent, rising to a still-meager 0.6 percent. But D.C.'s increase in walking to work is actually something of an anomaly. Twenty-three of the 50 largest cities experienced a statistically significant change in the percentage of workers who commute by foot; of those, 15 experienced a significant decline in walking.

But while the District may be a leader in walking to work, the D.C. metro area is less so. Only 3.2 percent of residents of the region, which extends to northeastern West Virginia, walk to work.

Compared to states, D.C. fares quite well in both categories. Only one state, Oregon, matches D.C. in having a bike-to-work faction of more than 2 percent of the population, while only two states, New York and Alaska, join D.C. with a walk-to-work contingent of more than 6 percent.


Nonetheless, we're going to have to step up our war on cars if we want to catch up to Boise.

Images from the U.S. Census Bureau

  • Highly suspect

    Look at the question the census asks :" How did the person usually get to work last week?"

    Well, ok...what time during the year was the ACS questionaire asked because as we can easily see via the CABI dashboard, bike comutting drops like a stone when the weather is bad outside.

    Between August of 2013 and January of 2014, CABI tells us that ridership fell off by more than 60%.

    We got a warm weather break this March for a week where the weather was high 60's, and I rode my bike to work every day, but the next week it was in the 30's and snowed, and I didn't ride once.

    Bike comutting is highly variable on weather, and I think the ACS questionare would need some serious statistical leveling to accomodate that.

  • Pop M

    Wow! That's amazing. Went all the way from one person in one hundred to one person for every 33 people. Yawn.

  • Mrs. D

    Highly, there are two problems with your suspicion, and one with your math. First, skilled survey researchers know that people are very, very bad at reporting behavior. Therefore, when asking people to report behavior, they ask them to recall a very short, very recent period of time and report what they actually did. If they ask them to report what they did over the last month or last year, the researcher would be opening their study to known reliability problems.

    Second, the ACS is conducted on a near-continual basis throughout the year. They ARE asking as many people if they biked in January as in June. That complaint is completely moot.

    Finally, you've pinpointed a rich source that can accurately capture data: Capital Bikeshare ridership stats. This is free from all reporting bias, but the overall numbers are not free from all exogenous factors. And the biggest of this is: tourists. As I'm sure you're aware, we have a high and low tourist season here, and tourists really aren't using Bikeshare to commute. Therefore, we need to exclude them from the equation when using CaBi stats. Fortunately, CaBi makes anonymized tables of every single trip available for download (they're HUGE files, so I wouldn't recommend trying this if you're, say, on a smartphone). I pulled Q3 (July, August, September) and Q4 (October, November, December) 2013, and did a simple subtotal on them. Trips by registered members (annual and monthly) decreased 22% between the quarters. Trips by casual members (tourists) decreased 59%.

    Do fewer people bike when it's really cold or really rainy or whatnot? Sure. But it's not 60% fewer, and even if it were, the survey used to compile this data is not seasonally-biased as it is conducted year-round.

  • Janson

    The ACS is continually administered (it's not a week-long or month-long survey) and "Seasonal Adjustment" is common to many ACS results. Also, while there's a lot of variability to rates of bike commuting seasonally, as someone who admits that you don't bike in bad weather, you might not be the best one to observe biking rates in that weather. I biked every day that I worked this year, including some pretty awful days, but there were always other riders out there with me, so while there's variability, it definitely doesn't approach zero commuters even in the worst weather.

  • Mario

    Nice work Mrs. D, Highly needed a quick overview in survey methodology and statistics.
    Lets not also forget that these ACS data are 5-year averages, not just some random snapshot. And finally, highly, just because you don't ride when it's below 30, don't think everyone does. A lot of us have very few options to get to work other than biking, or an incredibly long and slow bus ride. I ain't saying it's always fun, but it beats sitting on a bus for an hour.

  • Mrs. D

    I'm not at all trying to be smug or difficult, but I do know best practices for surveys like these, how the ACS is actually conducted, and suspected (confirmed!) that a lot of the seasonal drop-off in CaBi usage was low tourist season. You should SEE the raw numbers...over 200K casual user trips in July-September and barely 86K in October-December. Given a little time (eventually I'll come up with this), it would be even more instructive to look at Q2 vs Q4 since Q3 probably includes a number of summer interns on monthly memberships who departed town in August...

  • Mike

    The headline states that the percentage of people who bike to work increased by 60%. However, that isn’t what is in the actual report, which can be found at a link in the Census press release.

    According to the report, there was an increase in the number of US workers who travelled to work by bicycle, from 488,000 to 786,000, an increase of 60.8% (page 3). This is not the change in the percentage of workers biking, and that would be calculated by first dividing each of these estimates by the total number of workers. The actual increase is smaller if the number of workers increased in ten years.

    While the report didn’t provide include data on the total number of workers, it did state (also at page 3): “In 1980, 0.5 percent of workers commuted by bicycle. This rate dropped to 0.4 percent in 1990, where it remained in 2000. By 2008-2012, the share of bicycle commuters reached 0.6 percent.”

    So, it seems that the data in the report shows that over a 30 year period, we have seen an increase in the percentage of workers commuting by bicycle from 0.5 percent to 0.6 percent, an increase of 20 percent over 30 years, if the estimates are even statistically different from each other.

  • Hmmmm

    So, help me to understand...that's 3% of all commuters bike to work and 12% walk, so what makes up the other 97% or 88%? Public transportation and cars? So, how is the 3% or 12% a huge headline? Yes, there are more bikers or walkers than in 2000. But, I'm not sure if they also compare other periods like the 90's or 80's (or even further back than that).

    Anyway, I use a combination of commuting types within a given day or week (walking, driving and public transportation) and biking on the weekends. I think that having variety and multi-modal forms of transportation are ALL great. I would just like to see more of an emphasis on achieving respect and consideration between all of the different forms of transportation.

    Cars should respect pedestrians, bikes and public transportation. Bikes should respect cars, pedestrians and public transport. Ditto for pedestrians, buses, trains, etc. But, with the recent increase of bikers - I definitely don't see the same enforcement of traffic laws for biking.

    The best thing would be to have a one-day mock set of streets and make each different transportation type have to use/implement the other. Let bikers drive cars, drivers bike, pedestrians drive a bus, etc. and let each other see what it's like to try to avoid one another when they all behave like mavericks!

  • Mrs. D

    Hmmmm...the ACS allows only one answer for transport mode, so walking and biking are inherently under-reported. Like many people, I, and it sounds like you, get around by multiple modes, even on the same day. The ACS would classify me as a transit rider since the largest chunk of my commuting distance is by Metro/bus (I just do not have the energy to bike in the morning...sue me, momma needs her coffee before she mounts up). But I also walk to/from the stop and, a few times a week, grab a CaBi and ride part of the way home (the nearest dock is a few blocks away, so even if I take it most of the way, I still have to walk some). Someone who drove 5 miles to the nearest transit hub and then took the Metro/bus 4 miles would be a "driver" (and while that may sound outlandish, consider that someone driving to Braddock Road and then Metroing to Pentagon City would do exactly this, as would the hundreds of commuters that park at Rhode Island Avenue, under 3 miles from Metro Center).

    And I agree with a little more pleasantry from ALL sides. Pedestrians stand in the bike lane waiting for the light to change while a car is stopped in the crosswalk paying zero attention to people trying to cross while trying to make a right on red and a biker whizzes down the sidewalk. This could describe almost any intersection downtown at rush hour. It's certainly not everyone - there are plenty of pedestrians standing on the sidewalk or in the parking lane, plenty of bikes in the bike lane, and plenty of drivers waiting patiently behind the line. It's just that the bad ones are pretty memorable jerks.

    That said, drivers are the most dangerous of the lot, so they need to be the most careful. A careless driver can be lethal to others - even other drivers. I also disagree that the increasing number of bikers hasn't improved manners. When a bunch of bikers are bunched up waiting for a red light, it's harder for the scofflaw to blow through the intersection. At the very least they have to slow way down to get around the others, thus making them safer. It's also a simple law of averages. Back when only the bravest rode, a larger percentage of them took unnecessary risks. I still see messengers breaking every rule in the book...I rarely see someone on CaBi try to frogger through a major intersection (on the sidewalk, however :/). Finally, some jaywalking and jaybiking is harmless and I don't see any reason to waste resources enforcing against them. If I stop, look, and roll through a red downtown on a Sunday morning, chances are the nearest driver didn't even know about it because it is DEAD down there and they're likely blocks away. And if you walk enough, you'll find that some lights are so poorly timed that there are points when you have 20-30 seconds of no traffic coming through the intersection, even at rush hour (sounds like an exaggeration, but many of the N-S lights downtown are 60 seconds or longer). Do I go ahead when that happens? Yep. But I'm also not one of the fools playing frogger at an intersection with a turn arrow because I saw a couple cars stopped and assumed I was good to go. If the crosswalk signal stays "mysteriously" on "don't walk," I look around to figure out why, usually spotting the turn arrow, if I didn't already know it was there.