Thursday, October 23

Measuring the switch to Bicycles

Over the summer, plenty of anecdotal evidence was tossed around about how commuters around the country were leaving their cars at home and using a bike instead. There was a certain logic to this, given the high gas prices and heightened awareness of the social costs of driving. Yet hard empirical evidence for the shift has not been easy to come by. Traffic engineers have honed their car counting skills, but bicycle counting has, for the most part, fallen under the radar.

A few important measurements are coming in ...

  1. There is some pure counting going on. A new report on bike counts in New York City shows a whopping 35% increase from 2007 levels.
  2. You can always just ask. The U.S. Census American Community Survey for 2007 was released last month. Bikes Belong has some interesting statistics from this. It only records bike-to-work trips, but that at least gives some metric for the totals. We'll have to wait a while to see how 2008 compares.
  3. You can look at accident and injury reports. Minneapolis-St. Paul has seen an upsurge in bike commuter hospitalizations, and this in the face of many bicycle infrastructure improvements in the Twin Cities. This trend is probably a result of more bicycles on the street.
  4. Then there is the health of the bicycle retail market. Companies are reporting booming sales, even in the face of an economic downturn. This is particularly true of commuter models.
  5. The City of Houston reports that the number of cyclists using bike racks on their buses has doubled over the summer.
Add this all together and a pretty clear picture emerges.


J Keller said...

Hey Dan,

Nice post. I think it is great that many cities are creating more bike lanes and instituting a biking culture. New York, as you've probably seen, passed zoning regulations for bike parking.

However, outside the ideal of biking, in general, I don't think that biking has that much of an impact on either congestion, gas prices or climate change. I think there would have to be a critical mass of people biking before any real impact occurs. I think the main problem is that the bike lanes are being used by people who already bike. (These numbers from NYC and elsewhere are encouraging but seem a bit shaky).

Furthermore, outside the dense Northeastern cities I doubt that biking will ever really help out on any of the aforementioned issues. The density and exclusive zoning makes biking to work or for errands undesirable. Biking as recreation may benefit but biking as a policy tool, I doubt, will be very effective. Now, if Biking is coupled with other measures, like TOD or a loosening of zoning, etc... maybe then we can use biking as a viable policy tool.

Daniel Nairn said...

I agree that bicycle commuting is only one piece of the puzzle. It skews on the younger, less risk-adverse, healthier, urban side. It just happens to be pretty cool right now, so we may as well run with the momentum.

But without the other things you mentioned, a real biking solution would be hard to get off the ground.