Greater Greater Washington

DC bike commuting more than doubled since 2000

It's pretty clear from looking around DC that many people are bicycling. The Census has published new numbers that show how many are.

Image from the US Census.

3.1% of commuters in the District bike to work, according to the American Community Survey. That puts DC seventh among cities over 200,000 people. In 2000, that number was only 1.2%, for an enormous jump.

Plus, the survey doesn't even capture all of the bicycling. It just asks about commute to work trips. Many people bike for other trips even if they drive, take transit, or walk to work. And if you bike a short distance to a longer Metro ride, the Census would capture your commute as being by Metro, not by bike.

DC also has the second-highest rate of people walking to work, 12.1%, behind Boston's 15.1%.

The District is very different than the whole region (which includes the inner suburban counties and the far exurban ones). For the larger metro region, 3.2% of people walk to work, says the Census report; it doesn't say how many people bike to work region-wide.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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Look at the question the census asks :" How did the person usually get to work last week?"

Last week?

Well, ok...what time during the year was the ACS questionaire asked because as we can easily see via the CABI dashboard, bike comutting drops like a stone when the weather is bad outside.

Between August of 2013 and January of 2014, CABI tells us that ridership fell off by more than 60%.

We got a warm weather break this March for a week where the weather was high 60's, and I rode my bike to work every day, but the next week it was in the 30's and snowed, and I didn't ride once.

Bike comutting is HIGHLY variable based on weather, and I think the ACS questionare would need some serious statistical leveling to accomodate that.

by Highly on May 8, 2014 12:49 pm • linkreport

I think the ACS questions are asked throughout the year, and these numbers are over several years, to address the weather issue.

The real undercounting of biking, as DA notes, is that the question is about predominant mode. Since many people bike to work one or two days a week (I think more than bike 3 or 4 days a week), and many bike to metro, it will tend to under count the number of people for whom biking to work is, if not their primary mode, still an important part of their lifestyle.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 8, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

Whats particularly good news is that the decline in walking to work (of the 1980s and 1990s) seems to have finally stopped.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 8, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

@Highly - Bike comutting is HIGHLY variable based on weather

Perhaps. I bike in all weather except ice but maybe I'm an outlier. In any case Madison, Wisconsin had the 2nd highest proportion of bikers. If the data were collected in "good" weather then the results speak for themselves. If they were collected in "bad" and Madison WI had a higher proportion than DC and Honolulu....speaks volumes about the toughness of people from the Great Lakes states...

by Tina on May 8, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

I wonder what this list correlates to more: topography or infrastructure?

For example, the people who run Pittsburgh clearly believe in promoting cycling, building cycling tracks and lanes, etc. But the city is very hilly and I don't see it on here.

I suppose San Fran being on this shows that you can in fact have a high commute-to-work on bikes rate in a hilly place.

by Hadur on May 8, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport


The ACS has data for every month of year because they collect data in 12 independent sample surveys to develop annual estimates.

by jh on May 8, 2014 12:56 pm • linkreport

@Tina - yes, you're an outlier.

I'm a reasonably dedicated cyclist by one measure - I regularly commute 12 miles each way - but I opt for Metro when it's pouring rain or temps are much below freezing.

And I see many more cyclists in DC when the temps are above 60 than when below 60.

Signed: wimpy southerner

by John Henry Holliday on May 8, 2014 1:05 pm • linkreport

The brutal heat of summer is not only tough to bike in, but requires a shower when you get where you are going.

by Capt. Hilts on May 8, 2014 1:34 pm • linkreport

I would think that Capital Bikeshare could provide compelling data on bike commuting. I've seen the Bikeshare station near me cleaned out of bikes before 9 am M-F, if there weather isn't terrible, and presumably they are being mostly used for commuting.

by kob on May 8, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

Given the high rates of commuter cyclists in the community of those who identify as Latino/Hispanic (nearly the same amount as those who identify as white) it's amazing we don't do more to serve that community. Many people pedal for convenience, faster commuter times and/or b/c it's trendy, but many lower income Latinos (mainly males) who work in jobs (construction, back of the shop hotels, restaurants, bars, etc) bike out of necessity because other transit options are not available in wee hours of the morning before/after Metro shuts down. And unlike well heeled patrons, these workers aren't wasting their incomes on Über to get to and from work. Many of these cyclists pedal at night, we should do more to increase their visibility (perhaps ensuring more of them have bike lights) and serve their needs (ensure these workers have secure bike parking since they might park their bikes on the streets for full shifts, 8+hrs putting them at risk of bike theft).

by @ShawingtonTimes on May 8, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

Bejing and Mumbai have the highest bike to work rate in the world

by Ben Bradlee on May 8, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

wrt the comment thread, the response is that you need a lot of different techniques, based on subdistrict issues (topography, distance to major activity centers, end of trip facilities, etc.) to have impact.

It is not one size fits all.

My thing is to focus on "low hanging fruit" and the areas where there is the greatest likelihood for takeup.

WRT data collection I think it's "a crime" that the major metros aren't regularly conducting their own surveys. It's hard with the ACS to get accurate enough data, plus the question wording ("predominant mode").

The numbers that City Clock wrote about ( I have a hard time believing.

But that being said, you are starting to see visible uptake of biking in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and other places in the core.

Observationally, I would argue it isn't at the same level here as say, Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, nowhere near it. OTOH, it's higher in Capitol Hill than in other NYC neighborhoods.

by Richard Layman on May 8, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

I encourage DC residents to support building a multi-use bike trail on the abandoned Glen Echo trolley right-of-way. This trail would go from near Georgetown U. through the Palisades and would provide a safe alternative to biking on MacArthur Blvd.

by 202_Cyclist on May 8, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

This data is from 2000 - 2012. It would be interesting to see updated data, as it is largely in the last 1.5 years that Capitol Bikeshare use has grown more widespread.

by 202_Cyclist on May 8, 2014 5:37 pm • linkreport

It is also interesting to note that although, according to the ACS, African Americans had the lowest percent of bike commuting, at 0.3%, both New Orleans and DC, both with large African American populations, have high bike-commute percentages.

by 202_Cyclist on May 8, 2014 5:44 pm • linkreport

1. Another flaw with ACS data is it counts people who bike to the Metro as Transit riders, because that is almost always the predominate mode for such combo-commuters. No one bikes 7 miles to ride the metro another 1. But plenty of people do the opposite. So there are many fractional bike commuters that aren't being counted.

2. It's odd that the Census would use the 5 year ACS data instead of the most recent 1 year data. Especially since they're comparing it to the 2000 data. 3.1% was the percentage in 2010, and also the 5 year data for 2008-2012. But in 2011, the one year number was 3.2% and in">2012 it was 4.1%.

by David C on May 8, 2014 9:55 pm • linkreport

@David C

I suspect that because Census is trying to report on small, in addition to larger Metro and national-level, variation, they're concerned that 1-year estimates are subject to much more sampling variation than there is real signal. But, it seems they do make the data available for shorter-term estimates for those inclined to use them.

@Shawington Times:

Driving and walking around Takoma Park, Long Branch, and Langley Park, I too see a lot of people riding bikes who may not be in the target sociodemographic for CaBi. To be fair, I do wonder if Montgomery County was trying to make bike share available in those areas because of the existing users. And, at least the Takoma Metro to TPSS campus of Montgomery College seems relatively popular. But, I entirely agree that some of the local jurisdictions in the Wheaton-College Park, plus GA Ave from Col Heights northward, could provide some basic safety appliances and infrastructure to those already riding their own bikes to all sorts of job sites distributed all over the place.

by EMD on May 8, 2014 10:26 pm • linkreport

One thing about the Capital Bikeshare data is that it includes all users, not just people commuting to work. Compared to other cities with bikeshare, DC has a substantial number of tourist riders who likely skew the seasonal statistics. That's not to say that many regular bike commuters don't bike in the winter months, but the bikeshare data is not representative of all commuters.

by Gerald F on May 8, 2014 10:40 pm • linkreport

I just want to point out that Richmond made the list and has no real bike infrastructure or bike sharing. Imagine if Richmond actually spent some money on bike infrastructure like the city claims it will in the future!

by Mitch on May 9, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

Now put up the graph that shows percentages of how people commute to work in DC: biking, bus, car and metro. Biking is the lowest.

by Ivy1 on May 10, 2014 5:30 pm • linkreport

It's right here.

But I fail to see how mode share is relevant to a report on mode share growth.

by David C on May 11, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

@David C, to add to what EMD said the Bureau can compare a single year (2000) because the decennial census used to include a long form that inquired about commute to work. Though it wasn't distributed to every house, it was a much, much larger sample size than the ACS so it's valid as a single year. As EMD noted, one-year estimates are subject too high sampling variation and aren't as "strong".

by Stefanie on May 15, 2014 11:19 pm • linkreport

Yes. I know that the ACS data has a smaller sample size. But it is more recent. What they've done is issue a report in 2014 on data from 2010, which has led the media to say that this is the bike commuting "now", which it is not. So the 2010 data is "stronger" but old. The 2012 data is newer but weaker.

The report didn't do enough to make it clear that the end point on this comparison is 2010. And they don't even mention that the 2011 and 2012 data shows higher rates. All of which has had an unintended effect of understating the rise of bike commuting.

by David C on May 15, 2014 11:47 pm • linkreport

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