Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
New numbers from the League of American Bicyclists show that if you build the lanes, cyclists will come.
The latest analysis of Census data from the American League of Bicyclists tells us which cities are cycling to work the most.
In sheer numbers, the places with the most bike commuters reflect population, as well as decades of dedicated investment in cycling infrastructure in smaller cities like Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis. It’s also important to remember that mega-cities like New York City and Los Angeles have been steadily funding things like dedicated lanes, bike-share programs and street improvements that make biking a little easier, contributing to their ramped-up numbers.
The top 10 cities with the highest share of bike commuters are mostly college towns, where extensive bike infrastructure that may have been built originally with students in mind morphed into something non-student commuters heavily rely on. Davis, California, which has long had by far the highest share of bike commuters anywhere in the country, has bike lanes on 95 percent of its major streets.
Perhaps the most interesting tally is the top 10 large cities where bike commuting is growing fastest. Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati have all begun investing in bike lanes within recent years. With growing numbers of cyclists responding to new features, all of those cities have plans to expand their bike infrastructure.
Of course the share of people riding bikes to work is still less than 1 percent of all commuters. From 2008 and 2012, men were more than twice as likely than women to ride to work. And in many cities, bike lanes and bike-share programs aren’t distributed equitably. Though surveys have shown that people of color ride bikes for transportation more than white people do, it’s often predominantly non-white communities that lack the right infrastructure.
Still, the trend is clear: More Americans are biking to work, as cities roll out necessary infrastructure and road-safety policies. Nationwide, from 2000 to 2014, bicycle commuting has grown 62 percent. Yes, it’s easy to grow fast when you start with small numbers. But that doesn’t take away from the larger point: If you build the lanes, cyclists will come.