The U.S. Cities Where Cycling Is Growing the Fastest

Cities where bike commuting is growing fastest. Table: League of American Bicyclists
Cities with the most growth in bike commuting, per the U.S. Census. Table: League of American Bicyclists

This table, showing the top 10 U.S. cities where cycling is growing fastest, comes from a new report from the League of American Bicyclists that analyzes census data. Though the census only tracks bicycle commuting — and thus understates how many people are cycling — the results tell an interesting story about cycling trends.

Notice a mix of rust belt cities and larger, more progressive metros that are doing a lot to improve conditions for cyclists. It should also be noted that cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore had such small shares of commuters cycling in 1990 that, while percentage increases seem absolutely whopping, actual bike commuting rates are still somewhat modest. (The average bike commuting rate across the United States is 0.6 percent, the League reports.)

But even Portland had only a 1.2 percent bike commute mode share in 1990. It will be interesting to see where these cities are 23 years from now. Imagine if these trends continued.

The Bike League study is loaded with interesting city rankings. Check it out, and you’re almost certain to find your city on one of those lists.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    I’m very excited to hear about the growth of Chicago’s cyclist community. I definitely see more teenagers biking now, more than I saw when I was a teenager. I hope the habit sticks and the growth trend continues.

  • Aaron Berlin

    As far as Detroit goes, I would imagine that the increase in the actual number of bike commuters isn’t nearly as dramatic as the increase in percentage relative to the total number of commuters would suggest. That’s also probably true (though less dramatically so) for the other Rust Belt cities listed here.

  • I think that’s made pretty clear by the populations and starting mode share in 1990.

  • guest1

    A couple of interesting points I gleaned from the report: smaller cities, usually 50-150k, have the highest shares of bike commuters. i guess this makes sense, distances aren’t too large and roads may not be full of cars. The median rate for big cities is ~1%. That’s pretty darn low. Plus it seems the population figures reflect the administrative boundaries of cities, in other words we’re not talking about Metro Chicago or Metro New York. If this were the case, the share of bicycling commuting would probably be chopped in half (or more) for each city.

  • Lars Ulrich

    what are the seasonal stats? i.e. frequency of these commuters. Don;t imagine the numbers are this high in January

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Actually, if you look further down the chart, small cities also have the lowest shares of bike commuters. Only two big cities are below the national median, but lots of smaller cities get as low as 0.05% or even 0.02% (Oceanside, CA). The claim that smaller cities have higher rates of biking is just an artifact of the “law of small numbers” – some small communities have really low rates, and some small communities have really high rates, but big cities are collections of lots of small communities, so they’re always a mix of low rates and high rates, and thus average out somewhere in the middle.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    One thing I found interesting looking at that report was seeing which cities had bike commute share shrinking in the ’90s and which ones were shrinking in the ’00s. The biggest pattern I noticed was that it was sun-belt cities that were growing in that time period. My guess is that the total number of people commuting by bike was increasing in every city during the time period, but that new residents moving into car-dependent outlying areas brought the percentage down. But it would be useful to see those numbers.

    Also, this report should have the same caveat that everything based on the American Community Survey does – it only counts people who list the majority of their commute by bike. It doesn’t count anyone like my partner, who commutes by car, but does everything else on bike or foot, and it doesn’t count people who bike 20 minutes to a 10 minute subway ride (since the subway ride is more miles).

  • The census only counts people as bike commuters if they commute pretty much daily by bike the whole way.

  • Ray Keener

    Angie, whether or not you created this table, Google “false precision” and learn why you cannot turn tiny, imprecise numbers into “459.7%.” Also, how can Detroit and Cleveland both grow from 0.1% to 0.6% and have different growth rates in the right-hand column?

  • There’s more detail from the census that’s not listed. They have actual numbers of commuters for these cities.

  • dk12

    curious why they didn’t include metro level statistics – the ACS survey did include the % for metro area mode shares – and once you extrapolate actual numbers you realize that places like LA and San Francisco metros have about twice as many total cyclists as in their core city, and the Greater Boston Area has about 4 times as much – and that for other cities it’s typically only less than half the total number in the core city.

    Focusing on regional bike usage would be far more meaningful than only looking at core city data.

  • Jame

    I think metro level data would be more interesting. I live in Oakland. Bike commuting is at 2.7%, but people commuting into Oakland don’t often have the opportunity to bike to work. (I don’t live in biking distance of my job). On the other hand, many people bike to shopping etc. When Whole Foods opened, they had to quadruple bike parking within in a few weeks, and now has a few dozen spots. We need a new question on the ACS: do you bike to work or social activities or errands, and use that info to calculate mode share.

  • Johnny Bicycle

    This is a great resource! I’m down in Austin and are lucky to have many bicycle initiatives that encourage cycling and a city that is focused on more infrastructure for peds and cyclists. There’s also a great bike share program called Spokefly where you can find, rent, and ride bikes nearby. http://www.spokefly.com

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