New census data released last week shows that more Americans are commuting by bike than ever before–but that the total numbers, even in the biggest biking cities, are still a paltry percentage of total commuters.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 0.62% of commutes were made by bicycle in 2013, a small increase from the year before. This percentage equated to an estimated total 882,000 people who considered themselves bike commuters. In the city that had the highest percentage of bike commuters–Portland, Oregon–only 5.9% of people got to work by bike.
The list of cities with the higher percentage of bike commuters, compiled by the League of American Bicyclists based on the census data, shows some surprises. New Orleans (No. 5, 3.6%), Houston (No. 34, 0.8%), and Pittsburgh (No. 11, 2.2%) all saw biggest jumps in bike commuting since the previous year. Minneapolis, in snowy, cold Minnesota, is impressively ranked No. 4, with 3.7% of its commuters hopping on a bike.
Interestingly, the cities that Bicycling magazine recently ranked as the “best cities for cycling,” with New York and Chicago topping the list, do not correspond to the cities where we see the most bike commuters (see “These Are America’s Best Cities For Cycling (Maybe)“). Based on the census data, Chicago and New York are ranked 20 and 23, with 1.4% and 1.2% bike commuters, respectively. These cities have been working hard to build more bike lanes and make the streets safer for cyclists, so it’s possible that there’s just a lag and we’ll see bigger jumps in their rankings in future years.
As the League of American Bicyclists notes, the numbers seem small, but cycling is actually the fastest growing commuting mode in the last decade, in no small part thanks to the improved cycling infrastructure that many cities big and small have been building. For example, in Portland, bike commuting has more than doubled since 2000 and has quadrupled since 1990.
Finally, the League takes a look at the gender breakdown in the data. Historically, more men bike regularly than women, for a variety of reasons that largely relate to feeling comfortable and safe on the streets. The 2013 data showed that as cities make the streets safer for bikers, more women are pedaling to work–to be exactly, 95,500 more in 2013 compared to 2006. Still, women only represent about 25% of bike commuters today.
You can see a list of the 70 largest bike commuter cities here.