Census: Seattle bike commuting rises 22% in 1 year, city claims #2 spot in US

Census data, compiled by the League of American Bicyclists

Seattle rose to the number two spot among major US cities in terms of the number of people commuting to work by bike in 2010. The percentage of people using a bicycle as their primary mode of getting to work in Seattle increased 22 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the annual American Communities Survey conducted by the US Census.

This data confirms the city’s 2010 downtown bike commute count, which measured an increase of 21.4 percent in the same time period.

Between 2005 and 2010, the percentage of people commuting by bike in Seattle increased 57 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, it increased 93 percent.

Of the 70 largest US cities, only Portland was higher on the list. One silly but fun way to cherry pick the data is to say things like, “Of the 25 largest US cities, Seattle has the largest share of people commuting by bicycle.” (Portland is the 29th largest city)

Speaking of Portland, that city and Seattle had an almost identical bike commute mode shares in 2000 (both has just under 2 percent). Now Portland sits at 6 percent.

Though bicycling to work was up among most major cities, the national average actually went down slightly from 0.55 percent to 0.53 percent. Other oddities in the numbers include Minneapolis, which supposedly saw it’s bike commuting population decrease from 3.9 percent to 3.5 (hard to believe, given the creation of a successful bike share system there). Minneapolis’s drop has left the city searching for answers, which range from blaming their blip in bad weather to chalking it up to statistical margin of error.

Washington DC, which also created a successful bike share system last year, saw a 44 percent increase in bike commuting and rose to the number 5 spot on the list. In fact, there is a pretty strong correlation between bike commuting and density … if you remove Seattle and New York from the list. Biking Bis has more on the ACS data.

So, good work everyone! But don’t get too comfortable. Given the fluctuation of the statistics and the hard work going on down in San Francisco and Minneapolis, we are going to have to work hard to stay in the number two spot.

But just imagine what would happen to those numbers if we complete the Burke-Gilman missing link, the Ship Canal Trail and install protected bikeways downtown all by next summer. Add to that all the good work we are doing in our neighborhoods — like working for neighborhood greenways and Safe Routes to School — and you’ve got a recipe for some truly fast growth in people riding bikes.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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36 Responses to Census: Seattle bike commuting rises 22% in 1 year, city claims #2 spot in US

  1. Pingback: The Morning Memo Tuesday: Chilly, Boeing 787, “femme fatale” | Seattle Times Newspaper

  2. Gary says:

    Just thought I’d mention that I got counted on Mercer Island and coming out of the tunnel in Seattle this morning.

  3. Steve says:

    Just to clarify, Seattle is second in percentage of the population commuting by bicycle. We are 4th on this list in terms of numbers of people commuting by bicycle, and likely several notches further down the list of total numbers of people commuting by city. By any measure, however, we are going strong!

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  5. Brendon says:

    ACS data has large margins of error, so it is premature to say Seattle has beat out Minneapolis and San Fran. Those three cities could actually be tied given the spread of the error:


  6. Gene says:

    Minneapolis’s “blip in bad weather”? Blip?

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Haha. I think they mean worse than usual. I have no idea if that’s true, that’s just what that Star-Tribune story was suggesting.

      • AndrewN says:

        It was one of the snowiest winters on record. Oooh, and the Metrodome collapsed under something like 18 or 20 inches of snow from one storm.

        For a little more info: http://goo.gl/ZvgDL
        (During a typical winter, Winter Parking Restrictions [parking only a one side of the street due to large snow piles] never goes into effect.)

    • Todd says:

      I hear some bikers actually use chains. If so, terrific.

      • Gene says:

        I’ve always found the alleged percentage of bike commuters in Minneapolis a little hard to believe, and wondered how they compile that data. Is it an average for the year, or do they just count in the summer months, or what? But anyway, if those folks really are commuting in normal Minneapolis winters, I can’t imagine they’d be put off by slightly more horrible weather.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Mode share counts are notoriously hard to come up with and inaccurate. After all, if someone bikes to work sometimes, but takes the bus or drives more often, they would not be counted. Fair weather bike commuters are not counted. People who bike one day a week are not counted. People who are unemployed are not counted.

        Far, far more than 3.6 percent of people in Seattle ride bikes for at least some tasks or reasons. Getting to work is only one of the ways to use a bike. In fact, unemployed people probably need bikes and safe bicycle facilities more than those with jobs.

        So yeah, it’s just one more bit of data to look at, but it in no ways tells the whole city’s transportation story.

      • AndrewN says:

        When I lived in Minneapolis, I bought studded tires for my bike. Funny, I didn’t know they made them for cars till I moved to Seattle.

        Minneapolis has fairly-well-designed bike lanes and an extensive off-street system. And in the winter, they even have a dedicated crew for trail plowing.

  7. Gary says:

    I’d also like to mention that this week we have about 60% of the riders we have in August commuting to work at my office. (based on an informal count in the garage and the bike racks around the building.) I’ve always wondered why they do the count at the end of September unless they want the numbers to be lower. Or are they only looking for the “hard cases.” Ideally the sample counts would be taken once a month.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I think they want school traffic counted. Also, they would have to do the count at the same time every year in order for it to be comparable year-by-year.

      I think the change is more informative than the total count.

  8. Chefke says:

    If you are interested in why count decisions are made the way they are:

    There is also an upcoming 2010 Regional Bike & Pedestrian Count Report that is likely to be posted here:

  9. Todd says:

    Having the facilities and the designated and safe bicycle routes through the city is one thing, but to get new bikers onto the scene is quite another. If my body didn’t start breaking down all the time playing soccer, I probably wouldn’t have looked for another activity. I was quite happy. So I’m not sure how we really can expand those numbers as I’m not sure if attraction is enough. Maybe. It’ll be interesting when this city really gets rollin’ with the bicycle scene just how many people actually subscribe to the activity — let alone commuting. As for me, I’m sold and don’t expect to ever revert back until my damn biking is causing body breakdowns!

    • Gary says:

      Sucky traffic with open bike lanes is one attraction. But yeah it has to be perceivable safe. And employers need to see the reduced costs from the better health of employees so that they install lockers, bike cages, and showers.

      • Todd says:

        I’m one of the lucky ones. My employer supports our riding (my manager is a madman biker — hardcore) and our building has all the amenities.

  10. Pingback: Census: Bike commuting increases 22 percent in Seattle » Bazaar Daily News

  11. Andy says:

    As an ex-Seattleite current Oregonian, I’d just like to mention that infrastructure makes a big difference in bike commuting, and Seattle is way behind most towns in Oregon in that respect. Turns out it’s not accidental–it’s due to a 1970s law that requires 1% of transportation construction costs to go to bike and pedestrian facilities. Seems like a minor concession, doesn’t it? 1%? But it has made a big difference. Perhaps the WA legislature could consider something similar.

    • Morgan Wick says:

      The WA legislature? Supporting bicyling, or anything Seattle wants, or any transportation other than cars?


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  13. Andy says:

    There are other towns in the state besides Seattle, and including peds at least triples your consituency. It’s called strategery…

  14. Teacher says:

    I suggest that people take a close look at the numbers for the various cities. There is such a wide variation from year to year as to call into question the validity of the methodology. The Minnapolis numbers are suspect. So are Seattle’s. So are Boston’s. Many other cities showed one-year changes that just don’t make sense.

  15. WRT your example of DC and bikesharing, the likelihood is that bike sharing had limited to no effect on this data, which was likely collected earlier than the period after which bikesharing was launched in DC (the last week of September 2010).

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