5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S

While walk and bike commute rates aren’t changing rapidly, since 2005 walking to work has ceased a long-term decline, and biking to work has started to rise after many years of stagnation. All graphics: Alliance for Walking and Biking.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking released its big biannual benchmarking report today, a 200-page document that measures the scope, status, and benefits of biking and walking across the United States, using 2011 and 2012 data to update its previous reports.

Streetsblog will be running a series of posts looking at the Alliance’s findings over the next few days. To start it all off, here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. Biking and walking are growing — slowly

Nationwide, 3.4 percent of commuters got to work by foot or bike in 2011 and 2012.

In those two years, walking accounted for 2.8 percent of work trips, up from 2.5 percent in 2005 but not perceptibly different than any year since. Nationwide, bike commute mode share stood at 0.6 percent in 2012, up from 0.4 percent in 2005 but not much different than when the previous benchmarking report came out two years ago.

The Alliance calls this a continuation of the “very gradual trend of increasing biking and walking to work.”

2. But walking to work is growing more noticeably in cities

In the 50 largest cities, however, a recent increase in walking is somewhat more discernible. The walking commute share rose to 5 percent in 2012 — half a percentage point higher than in 2005. Meanwhile, bike commuting in the 50 largest cities rose to 1 percent mode share in 2012 from 0.7 percent in 2005.

Boston had the highest share of walking commuters at 15 percent, and Portland had the highest share of bike commuters at 6.1 percent.

Keep in mind that these mode-share numbers are based on the Census, which only counts people who bike or walk for the longest part of their commute more than three days a week. As we’ll see, this understates total biking and walking activity.


3. We still don’t have great data on biking and walking

That’s one problem the report seeks to address. Most local government agencies don’t devote a great deal of resources to tracking walking and biking trips — although the Alliance reports that more and more do.

Federal data collection like the Census tends to collect data from 50,000 feet, without much detail. A major purpose of the Alliance report is to establish baseline measures that will allow advocates to set goals and measure their progress in improving active transportation.

4. Biking and walking are more common than Census data suggests

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.58.15 AM

Bicycling accounts for 1 percent of total trips in the U.S. and walking makes up 10.4 percent. That’s based on the National Household Travel Survey, last conducted in 2009. The sample sizes are also small, so again, the data is not perfect. According to that survey, 13 percent of Americans take one biking trip a week and 68 percent take one walking trip. Almost a quarter of Americans take one daily walking trip and 2 percent take one daily trip by bike.

5. Bicycling and pedestrian fatalities have increased lately, but the long-term trend is downward

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.34.27 PMIn 2011, bicyclists and pedestrians accounted for 15.8 percent of traffic fatalities, up from 12.6 percent in 2003. Even in terms of absolute numbers, more cyclists and pedestrians were killed in 2012 than 2011 — a disturbing development.

Long-term trends, however, are positive. Between 1980 and 2011, the pedestrian death rate declined from 35.5 to 14.2 per million people per year. The bike fatality rate also dropped in that period, from 4.3 to 2.2 per million people per year. (As we reported last week, despite these improvements, safety on American streets still lags far behind our peer countries.)

Biking was safer in large cities, where, according to the Alliance, there were 4.9 cyclist deaths for every 10,000 bike commuters counted by the Census, compared to a fatality rate of 8.5 per 10,000 nationwide.

6 thoughts on 5 Things You Should Know About the State of Walking and Biking in the U.S

  1. See, now if you used numbers the same way Wendel Cox or Joel Kotkin do, you would report this as “Biking’s share of commute is up 40% since 2005.”

  2. So yeah. This will be interesting, but two big things.

    One, as I’ve been outed as an unabashed Rochester supporter, I think it’s important that I express my disappointment with our Master Bike Plan not being included in the other resources. http://www.cityofrochester.gov/bikeplan/

    Second, I find it odd that in a 268 page report on Bicyclists and Pedestrians that they manage to not once reference NHTSA’s National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior. http://www.nhtsa.gov/Driving+Safety/Research+&+Evaluation/National+Survey+of+Bicyclist+and+Pedestrian+Attitudes+and+Behavior

  3. These figures paint a pretty dismal picture for me.

    The mode share distribution approaches the opposite of what would be resource appropriate for the age we’re living in.

    Investing in untenable ways of life is how societies collapse.

  4. Improvement is good, and we can get better. Two of the most important steps we can take to increase bicycle commuting are:

    1. Add more trails. Road riding is okay for the 1% of hardcore bicyclists (immortals), but if we want to encourage the other 99% of folks to commute via bicycle, we’ve got to dramatically improve & increase our trail infrastructure.

    2. We have to encourage rather than discourage electric bicycles. Pedal assist bikes are great for commuting, recreation & exercise. Currently, we’ve got a completely disjointed system of laws regarding electric bikes, especially on paths. Pedal assist bikes, by their nature, are not one bit more dangerous than regular bikes, but much more appealing to commuters who don’t want to wear special biking clothes to work or arrive at work sweaty. Electric bikes allow them to take it easy on the way to work and get their exercise on the way back. Hills are less of a problem also.

    To see an excellent discussion on this issue, visit http://trailsnet.com/2010/10/01/should-electric-bikes-be-allowed-on-trails/

  5. I’m not sure more that trails are the answer. Maybe if they were purpose-built cycletracks like in Europe, but they’re often built primarily for recreation here.

  6. I haven’t heard the phrase cycle tracks before. But you’re right. The trails would have to truly be multipurpose in order to appeal to commuters. Although they could also be used for recreation, they would have to be built w/ commuters in mind. Washington D.C. has a pretty good trail infrastructure that works well for both commuters and recreational riders.
    Denver would also have a nice trail infrastructure with just a few tweaks and more communication w/ the local cycling community.
    In general, we’ve already got a pretty good base of trails in many major metropolitan areas, but most people don’t even know about it. Once people discovered how easy it is to commute by bicycle, I think the trails would get more support & funding.

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