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DC cycling concentrated in Northwest and Capitol Hill

An analysis of American Community Survey (ACS) data shows that bicycling rates are not evenly distributed across the District.

Throughout the city, 2005-2009 ACS estimates indicate that approximately 1.9% of DC workers commute to their jobs by bicycle, but examining the data by Census tract tells a different story. The highest rates of bicycle commuting tend to be concentrated in areas adjacent to Downtown, as well as in Northwest Washington and on Capitol Hill.

The highest rates of bicycle commuting also tend to be correlated with those neighborhoods where the city has invested in bicycle infrastructure and facilities. For example, the map shows strong rates of bicycling along the 14th and 15th Street corridors, where bike lanes, and now a cycle track, run north and south.

Bicycling is also strong on Capitol Hill, where bike lanes run both north/south and east/west. In Northwest, the Capital Crescent and Rock Creek trails provide safe means for bicyclists to get into the city.

Anecdotally, this confirms the hypothesis that "if you build it, they will ride," and suggests that further investment in bike facilities would help boost the bicycling rate in neighborhoods where it currently isn't very high.

Though it's concerning to see a number of Census tracts register 0.0%, it's also important to understand that these numbers don't necessarily mean that no one rides a bike in any particular geography. The 2009 ACS questionnaire specifically asks: "How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK?"

In practice, this means that a person who commuted to work primarily by another means, like automobile or public transportation, but still rode a bicycle that previous week, wasn't counted. Nor was a person who just happened not to bike to work the previous week, for whatever reason; nor was a person who wasn't working that previous week.

While the Census Bureau's metric isn't perfect, it's one of the few proxies for understanding rates of bicycling. Washington has made great strides in making the District a good place to ride a bike. As long as it's working, that progress should continue.

Rob Pitingolo moved to the DC area in mid-2010 and currently resides on Capitol Hill. He also writes about issues of urbanism, economics, transportation and politics at his blog, Extraordinary Observations


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I'd also note that the ACS is a survey, and the margins of error for tract level data like this are quite high at this time. It's a decent snapshot of broad patterns across the city, but I wouldn't assign too much specificity to a single tract.

Also, remember that this is commute to work data, thus it only captures trips that are commutes, which only acocunt for about 20% of all trips. Also, respondents must choose one mode and one mode only for that particular trip, and many trips - particularly urban ones - are multi-modal.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2011 10:19 am • linkreport

OMG! White people like biking!

And it is really amazing that people on 15th st starting using their bikes more in anticipation of the cycletrack in 2005, when it only arrived five years later.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

OMG! White people like biking!

What are you trying to say here? Even before the cycletracks, 14th and 15th were among the better routes to bike. And although I can't read the map that well, it looks to me like some of the highest percentage of bikers were in Pleasant Plains and Petworth -- hardly an all-white area. And as we know from previous posts on this site, Wards 7 and 8 have terrible bike infrastructure, so you can't really make race-based judgments about why people don't bike commute from there.

If what you're trying to say is that biking is a frivolous hobby of white people, then I vehemently disagree. Like all other kinds of transportation issues, this one does have a social justice aspect. Biking is a cheap and healthy way to get around for everyone, and as a public amenity bike infrastructure should be equally distributed. But it's not a surprise that biking infrastructure has come first to wealthier and whiter areas of the city because, well, isn't that the way it always is with public works? The answer to race differences in bike commuting is not to deride white bikers, but instead to ask, why isn't the ability to benefit from this CHEAP form of transportation being brought to everyone else?

by M on Mar 1, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

Given the timing, isn't it "if you ride they will build it"?

The survey ran from 2005-09, before many of the bike lanes were built.

by ah on Mar 1, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

I have removed a comment by Josh S which resorted to namecalling about contributors. Josh also pointed out some specific problems with the first sentence, which I have modified based on that. If there are issues with sentences, we welcome hearing them, but there's no need to throw in some obnoxious dig at people along with it.

by David Alpert on Mar 1, 2011 10:57 am • linkreport

@M; I am being sarcastic.* Turn your irony meter back on.

However, we just had a huge argument yesterday on how awful 15th st was before the cycletrack, and now, zut alors, it turns out it was bike-friendly before they took away a lane of car traffic?

* "I want to be a bowler, there aren't any black guys in bowling. We have one in golf, but we dont have one in bowling."

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

I doubt this is all "if you build it, they will come"; it's likely also "if you play baseball, they will build it."

The data may suggest that bike-friendly infrastructure reinforces, and expands upon, a pre-existing tendency to commute by bike in those neighborhoods; it may suggest that anti-bike barriers in some areas (i.e. freeways and limited space on river bridges) may suppress pre-existing tendencies to commute by bike; or the data could simply suggest that some neighborhoods are sufficiently close to employment areas so that bike commuting is comparable, and possibly superior, to other available tranport modes.

Bottom line: I think you would need more targeted data to confirm your hypothesis. Specifically, you would need to show how ridership changes over time, as new bike-friendly infrastructure becomes available. Even then, I don't think you can rule out the possiblity that the infrastructure exists because people in those neighborhoods bike, as opposed to the other way around.

by Steven on Mar 1, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

This map is even more evidence that CaBI should strategically exit "East of the River" and use those bikes where they are needed.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

In addition to David's caveat on the ACS Journey to Work question, it's also important to note that work trips account for less than 1 in 5 trips we make. The rest are to shopping, to visit friends, etc.

If you take a look around downtown and the denser parts of the city on a nice weekend, a much higher percentage of trips are done by bike. On some corridors I'd say its probably the dominant mode.

by jeff on Mar 1, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

@ Charlie, I was about to say the same thing but you beat me to it. If the user stats directly from cabi weren't good enough, then this data only strengths the argume that those stations are wasted across the river.

And this data has nothing to do with whether black people hate the cold!

by freely on Mar 1, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

@Jeff; I tend to agree with you on the part about non-work trips, but the data that I've seen suggest commuting to work may be more than 20% of trips. Probably because for many people the "commute" might include an errand or school trip as well.

And there is absolutely nowhere biking is the dominant mode. Maybe walking, but certainly not biking.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 11:15 am • linkreport

Recognize the margin of error, is 9.9% simply the top of the chart, or is there a tract somewhere in the city that actually measured 9.9%?

by BeyondDC on Mar 1, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport


by BeyondDC on Mar 1, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

charlie, the 15th Street cycletrack may not have gone in until last year, but the 14th Street bike lane went if several years ago. As do lanes on Q and R and I believe 17th. So if you can distinguish, from this map, who is using which facility, you are clearly a super-computer robot sent here to destroy or enslave us.

We had 10 miles of bike lanes in 2005 and about 50 in 2010. So on average about 30 miles during that period.

This map is even more evidence that CaBI should strategically exit "East of the River" and use those bikes where they are needed.

No, it isn't.

by David C on Mar 1, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

Why do I just think of this clip every time I read this blog?

by beatbox on Mar 1, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Seems to confirm what the CaBi usage information showed. Removing East of the River CaBi stations is politically undoable, but clearly calls into question greater expansion there. But focusing more on the periphery of heavily used areas and around colleges seems to make more sense.

by Fritz on Mar 1, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

I commute daily and live in a neighborhood listed as 0.0 (Shepherd Park). I know of at least three other daily commuters in the neighborhood who travel at the same time as I do. There are rumored (amongst us four) to be several others. Some survey.

by jmg on Mar 1, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

@DavidC; oh, don't worry Mr. Tobacco Lobbyist.. I not saying we should throw bike lanes away. I am just saying the timing negates the finding the author tries to make -- build it and they will come.

If you go the master plan in 2005, you'll find a map, which, surprises, looks just like this one.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

Oh, and the fun part of the old map -- more people used bicycles "east of the river" back then.....

Save CaBi! Get those bikes out of there. Perhaps WABA can organize a trip where we move all the bikes to nice parts of town as a protest.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

Didn't the question read "Did you commute by bike in the last 30 days?" I always thought that was misleading. So I take a bike twice every month. It doesn't make me a bike commuter

by beatbox on Mar 1, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

Will Vincent Gray actually take not of these results and continue on with making our streets safer for bikers. I love biking on 15th, with the protected shield of parked cars. A lot of DC drivers ride way to close.

If he folds to be more car centric he'll lost my vote next election

by JohnDC on Mar 1, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

@ beatbox; 3 variables in the question

1. One, as you identify, is the definition of commuter too loose. Alternatively, it is too strong for cycling advocates. Who needs showers at work if only 2% of the workplace is using bikes to come into work twice a month.

2. Is it more likely that white people will say "yes" to that question

3. Huge margins of errors for all ACS data.

by charlie on Mar 1, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

Alex B. is correct that the margin for ACS data tends to be large at the tract-level. This really shouldn't be viewed as "this many people bike in this geography". Rather, it should be used to explore where cycling rates are relatively higher or lower. My understanding is that, since Census did away with the long-form, ACS is the tool we'll have available to explore these types of topics going forward.

As it's noted in the post, the way this question is asked, and the universe of people that it represents, has problems. Unfortunately, there are very few metrics designed to measure rates of bicycling. Even with it's flaws, Census is still one of the few tools we have available.

Both Census and CaBi statistics indicate that cycling rates are low East of the Anacostia River. The long-term solution should be enhanced facilities and infrastructure in those neighborhoods.

by Rob Pitingolo on Mar 1, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

Would it be possible to share the same map with percentage of those who answered "bus", "metrorail", etc?

I'm not sure it confirms the hypothesis at all. Lack of infrastructure would surely be a contributing factor, but so would - interest in riding bikes, possession of a bike, someplace to go on a bike, etc.

I understand that blogs require content and so therefore stories must be written. But postings like this that make blanket statements about what something means when there are clearly other ways to interpret the same information just bug me.

by Josh S on Mar 1, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

I have to agree. To say that "Anecdotally, this confirms the hypothesis that "if you build it, they will ride," is like saying "Anecdotally, this confirms that black people don't like the cold."

I just don't think you can make that jump.

by Blogon on Mar 1, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

Few people East of the River use bikes or the CaBi program.


A. Don't spend as much on CaBi EOTR and focus on areas of higher usage where you get better ROI.
B. Spend lots more money EOTR at the expense of other higher usage areas in the hopes of getting more people to bike.

by Fritz on Mar 1, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

C. Expand CaBi where the demand is, but expand infrastructure EOTR.

by Froggie on Mar 1, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

I wish I could make out N. Capitol St. better on the map. I suspect there is some real bike commuting from NE and SW based on the organgey bits.

Still, this is really interesting. Glad the ACS asked about this. As someone who lives in a dark red tract in Ward 1 I used to use 14th St. all the time before the cycle track came in, not 15th. So even for people who would bike without the cycle track, its presence is a boon because of safety, comfort, and expansion of safe cycling route options.

by Ward 1 Guy on Mar 1, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

Perhaps one Kwame Brown will soon be seen on a bicycle in Ward 7.

by Lisa on Mar 1, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

My office just switched locations and my ride went from 15 miles each way to just over 20 miles each way unless I really want to play frogger. Plus the new building doesn't have a shower facility. Little bummed when gas is 3.40 and I loose 2 hours of the day doing what I want to do vs sitting in traffic.

by tim on Mar 1, 2011 4:37 pm • linkreport

agree with Froggie in theory, but it's a safe assumption that both CaBi capital expansion and bike infrastructure in DC will be significantly impaired under a Gray administration facing a budget deficit.

with peak period demand outstripping supply for CaBi downtown and in the 14th St corridor, a case can be made (however distasteful) that redeploying underused CaBi stations (at least temporarily until the local 11th St Bridge gets done) will get more people riding.

WABA's new advocacy push EOTR is commendable though

by darren on Mar 1, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

So I take a bike twice every month. It doesn't make me a bike commuter

Sure it does. You bike to work. If that doesn't make you a bike commuter, what does? It doesn't make you a 100% bike commuter, but it doesn't make you 100% a transit commuter either. It makes you a 10% bike commuter. The problem is that this doesn't pick up fractional commutes.

So if you walk 1/2 mile to the metro, and metro two miles, you're considered 100% a transit commuter, when actually you're 80% a transit user. And since I suspect few people walk two miles and transit 1/2 a mile if means that walking and biking are under-counted. Perhaps driving too, but there probably are a lot of people who drive farther than they ride metro.

Additionally, if you bike 10% of the time and drive 90% you're counted as 100% driving. I suspect that there are more people for whom biking is a minority commute than there are that it is a majority commute. So biking is underrepresented there too.

by David C on Mar 1, 2011 10:38 pm • linkreport


Those maps look similar, but since the tract sizes and the ranges are different, you really can't glean anything about how things have changed over the period in question.

And it's Dr. Tobacco Lobbyist to you. I didn't spend four years at Altria Univeristy for nothing.


it's a safe assumption that both CaBi capital expansion and bike infrastructure in DC will be significantly impaired under a Gray administration facing a budget deficit.

A bigger variable is what happens at the federal level, since most of the bike money (SRTS, Rec Trails, TE etc..) comes from federal sources. If Obama gets his way and there is a large "livability" element to the state grants, bike-sharing could get a boost.

by David C on Mar 1, 2011 10:45 pm • linkreport

The racial disparity is so huge that I think cycling in DC should be viewed as a hate crime from now on.

by JL on Mar 2, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

@JL: Snark aside, what "racial disparity" is there in cycling in DC? African-American men make up a very significant proportion of the other bike riders I see on my commute, between Capitol Hill and LeDroit Park, and other riding around town.

I recently mentioned on another thread that I too observe bikes ridden by guys with buckets and fishing poles and by ladies with dogs in their handlebar baskets. The fishing guys all seem to be black, the dog-transporting ladies white. The dogs come in various colors, though.

by davidj on Mar 2, 2011 10:29 am • linkreport

The racial disparity is so huge that I think cycling in DC should be viewed as a hate crime from now on.

I think you're confusing "no black folks bicycling where the population is 99% white" with "no black folks bicycling". You should get out of NW sometime. As davidj said, I see a pretty diverse crowd cycling in NE.

By your logic, black folks don't send their kids to daycare, either. Or eat in restaurants. They're certainly underrepresented in places like Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights. Are those hate crimes, too?


by oboe on Mar 2, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

Argh. This discussion is all over the place.

I think the reason that the map comes out like this is that (1) it is based on ACS data (with the problems of the survey question, which asks about not every mode used to get to and from work, but the primary mode--so that even if I rode 20-25 miles day in my commute to and from Towson, since I took the train for 80 miles, the biking shouldn't be counted) and (2) the data results appear to reflect the fact that certain neighborhoods tend to have bicycle-congenial spatial patterns and topography.

It's not that certain parts of East of the River do not have similar spatial patterns, but there are other issues, particularly in crossing the river, distance to work, as well as some severe topography issues in some places. Plus, it would be interesting (and I am not a great data analyst) to try to control this data for income.

I agree with points made by others that a lot of the infrastructure hasn't been in place long enough to be caught by this data, therefore I am more inclined to focus on the spatial pattern than the infrastructure and programming.

Similarly, the city should do its own travel survey, not using the ACS as a model, but instead what MWCOG did, or the National Household Travel Study methods, and do the the study annually or bi-ennially. Not having good data on all travel behavior--not just commuting--is a real problem.

Making a decision on CaBi and East of the River requires a different kind of analysis. Now, if I had been responsible for deployment, I wouldn't have started there, but done a phased rollout, based on the places with the greatest likelihood of use.

Other programs, such as that proposed by WABA, are necessary to build up biking mode split. Of course, I recommend the integrated set of proposed programs that I discussed in the Western Baltimore County ped and bike access plan (draft).

Lots of things need to be done both simultaneously and in a phased manner to increase take up of bicycling in all neighborhoods.

by Richard Layman on Mar 2, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

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