How Bike Friendly Is Your City? Ask the Census

27 Sep

If gold is luxurious and platinum is even more precious, what’s next? Diamond, of course. Last week, the League of American Bicyclists added a new “Diamond” designation to their Bicycle-Friendly Community program, which recognizes communities that actively promote bicycling. With communities like Portland, Boulder and Davis having achieved Platinum years ago, it was time for the League to expand the challenge.

The program evaluates communities on the five E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation, and gives awards from Bronze to Diamond. But how effective is the rating? My city achieved Bronze, the same as my hometown of Baton Rouge. But no one would say they’re equally bike-friendly.

Most of Baton Rouge’s neighborhoods are isolated by fast roads with no bike lanes, while Mountain View has bike lanes throughout town and bike trails with bridges over freeways. But my city hasn’t improved its bicycling programs as aggressively lately as it did in the past. Could be why it’s been stuck at Bronze for eight years.

Still, it seems like more and more people are bicycling around town. And according to census data released last week, there are. The US Census’ American Community Survey samples a small percentage of the population every year, measuring a variety of things from income to health insurance to transportation, including bike commuting. Its data shows that 6.2% of my city’s residents commute by bike, up from 4.1% in 2010.

Note that the survey has some limitations. First, if you combine travel modes the mode that covers the most distance is what counts. So my work commute is considered transit, even though I spend more time riding my bike than riding the train. Second, it only measures work commutes, not trips by retired and unemployed folks, travel for errands and social activities, and the “mom’s taxi” trips taking kids to school and other activities.

Even for people that drive to work, by my calculation it only measures only about half of their mileage. Here’s the math: the average work commute is 30 miles round trip. Multiply by five days a week for 50 weeks a year and that’s 7500 miles. Since the average automobile mileage of working age people is about 15,000 miles, only half of most drivers’ annual mileage is commuting to work.

Still, I’m pleased to see data that shows Mountain View has bike commuting rates comparable to Platinum rated Portland, and that distinguishes it from other Bronze-rated cities with much lower bicycling rates. To see how your community rates, you can query the ACS database by following the steps outlined in the screenshots below (click image to expand). Or you can check out the US state and California county maps created by my buddy Richard for his Cyclelicious blog.

How does your city rate? Is is increasing? What percentage of your car’s annual mileage is work commuting?


Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Issues & Infrastructure


5 responses to “How Bike Friendly Is Your City? Ask the Census

  1. Mike Patterson

    October 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

    A bit off subject: after last nights meeting, I remembered a bike trail intersection on Monroe St. in Santa Clara near San Thomas Exp. This trail doglegs across Monroe and is marked as a bike path, not a crosswalk. View it on Goole earth. This might work at Farley/Middlefield.

    • ladyfleur

      October 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Whoa, that’s a crazy bike lane. Since there are signal lights on either end of the bridge I’m guessing that the bike lane gets its own signal phase.

      Reminds me of the Homer tunnel in Palo Alto. But fundamentally, both are hacks. I think with Farley there’s a better solution possible.

    • ladyfleur

      October 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      I saw this post about one rider’s experiences with that intersection. Apparently it confuses drivers to the point where he’s almost been hit.


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