According to new Census data from the American Community Survey, commuting to work by bicycle in Minneapolis has more than doubled since 2000. However, the data also show that between 2008 and 2009, Minneapolis saw a 10% decline in bicycle commuting. This trend does not mirror national trends in bicycle commuting, but does mirror the trend of our arch rival in all things bicycle, Portland (they were down 2% since ’08). The actual percent of commuters bicycling to work in Minneapolis in 2009 was 3.8% (Portland was at 5.8% and the nation as a whole was 0.55%).
The League of American Bicyclists has crunched the numbers on the 70 largest US cities, and has concluded that nationwide bicycle commuting rates have held steady since 2008. However, large gains have been made since 2000 and since 2005. Non- “Bicycle-Friendly Communities” (as defined by the LAB) actually saw large gains since 2000, with a 71% increase, while Bicycle-Friendly Communities only saw a 48% increase.
So why the big drop in Minneapolis since 2008? It’s hard to say exactly. Perhaps lower gas prices have lured some folks back into their cars. Another possibility is that it’s not a trend at all, but a fluke of the data. The League of American Bicyclists page does a good job of explaining all the limitations of the ACS, including a couple big ones like the fact that ACS is an estimate, not a true count and the fact that ACS asks respondents only what the principal mode of travel the worker usually used to get from home to work in the previous week. From the LAB page:
Workers were asked to list only the means of transportation they used on the largest number of days in that week. This means that if the respondent rode a bicycle to work two days but drove three, they would not be counted as a cyclist. Likewise, workers were asked only for the means of transportation used for the longest distance during the trips. If someone biked one mile to a bus stop and rode the bus for two miles they would not be recorded as a bicyclist.
The League of American Bicyclists is also quick to note that bicycling’s share of all trips is three times larger than it’s share of commuting travel. Meaning you are more likely to choose a bicycle for a trip to the store or soccer practice than you are for a trip to work.
Census 2010 data, which will give us information down to the neighborhood level, will be available sometime next year and should give a more accurate accounting of commuting habits. The City of Minneapolis is also in the midst of a new bicycle and pedestrian count, which actually counts bike riders at many locations throughout the city. While this doesn’t break down commute versus non-commute trips, it will give us another indicator of overall bicycle use in the city.