Bike commuting is at an all-time high in Seattle and continues to climb, according to Census survey data.
Perhaps a bigger symbolic moment has been reached, however: Driving alone to work is now below 50 percent in the city of Seattle, demonstrating a sea change in the way people in our city choose to get around.
Commuting to work by walking and biking has been climbing steadily with no signs of slowing down. In fact, if anything, commuting by a means other than driving is only growing faster as the job market in Seattle improves.
Though it may be tempting to say that bike commuting is up 19 percent over 2012, Census survey data has a large enough margin of error to make it a somewhat poor measure of year-to-year changes. For example, it showed a huge jump in bike commuting between 2009-2010, a small decline 2010-2011 and now a big jump 2011-2012. Likely this was actually a more gradual but steady climb.
Looking longer term, bike commuting in Seattle is up 78 percent since 2005, and walking to work is up 44 percent. Driving alone to work is down 14 percent in the same time frame.
The survey data is also flawed as a measure of general transportation mode habits in the city. It does not include any trips other than trips to and from work. All those bike rides to the grocery store or a friend’s home do not count. The survey also does not account for multi-modal journeys to work. In fact, most people who combine biking and busing to get around would not count as a bike commuter. Neither would people who bike to work some days, but used another mode more often in the week before they were called. Here’s how the question is worded:
How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK?If this person usually used more than one method of transportation during the trip, mark (X) the box of the one used for most of the distance.
So it is safe to assume that 4.1 percent is the lowest possible estimate for regular bicycle use in the city. It’s also probably more useful to use the survey to track changes over time, by which measure bike commuting is becoming more and more popular every year.
You can see a spreadsheet I put together showing annual data from the survey dating back to 2005. Or, if you are more ambitious, you can dig into the data yourself on the (often confusing) Census website.
UPDATE: Though Seattle’s growing bike commute rate is promising, it’s sluggish compared to some other large US cities (population 300,000+). In fact, Seattle has given up it’s place as the #2 biking big city in the nation. Minneapolis reclaimed their spot below Portland (6.1 percent), with 4.5 percent of their residents biking to work.
In fact, Seattle is now in a close race with Washington DC to stay on the podium (there is a bike commute podium, right?). Our nation’s capitol has tied Seattle for the #3 spot (unless there’s another city in play that I haven’t counted yet). And cities like San Francisco (3.8 percent), Denver (2.9 percent), Tucson (2.8 percent), and Sacramento (2.6 percent) are hot on our heels, as well.
So what has DC done to nearly double Seattle’s bike commute growth pace? Well, they installed an ambitious number of protected bike lanes through the city. They also launched a hugely successful bike share system.
Seattle has spent the past couple years making modest infrastructure improvements, but mostly the city has been retooling the way we think about city cycling. There is now huge momentum behind the idea of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways that more people will find inviting. But while we engaged in our time-consuming “Seattle process,” DC put some of these ideas into action and got results.
So it is clear: Seattle needs to make some serious investments in the ideals represented by the still-pending Bike Master Plan update and urged by a city-wide network of neighborhood greenways groups. We are beyond ready to put these ideas into action on our streets, and we know they will be effective. Seattle can be the top cycling city in the nation, but there are a growing number of cities in the US that want that title, too.