Friday, September 18, 2015

Bike commuting 2014 in Madison: More stagnation

It's that time of the year again when the US Census releases the numbers of last year's American Community Survey (ACS), For bike advocates this is always an exciting event, as the ACS, despite its limitations, is one of the few available data sources about biking that allows us to look at long-term trends in cycling in the US.

As soon as I heard the data was out, I plugged the latest numbers into the spreadsheet I created for a post last year. It quickly became clear that the main news conveyed by those numbers is that there isn't really any news: Continuing the trend since approximately 2009, the percentage of people cycling to work in Madison has stagnated at around 5%. Compared to the US average and many other metro regions in the US, this percentage is high. Compared to the mode share in many European cities, though, there is a lot of room for improvement. Stagnation is not enough.

Seattle Bike Blog has some numbers for comparison:
Seattle (3.7 percent) is now in a bike commute race against Minneapolis (4.6) in the Mid-West, DC (3.9) on the East Coast, New Orleans (3.4) in the South, San Francisco (4.4) and Oakland (3.7) on the West Coast, and Tucson (3.5) in the Southwest.
And then of course is Portland, which despite all lamentations actually has increased its bike mode share to above seven percent for the first time.

As for explanations, my previous post and the comments are probably still accurate. Getting to somewhere around five percent, especially in a college town, is relatively easy. Beyond that, real investment in infrastructure and incentives/disincentives needs to happen. In Madison this has not happened. Changes that might entice people to bike to work have changed only incrementally. An improved intersection here, a widened bike lane there. But probably most Madisonians would agree that by and large there haven't been any major efforts that would make cycling a more appealing transportation option. No protected bike lanes, no rebuild of horrible intersections such as the one at Machinery Row, and many main streets in town remain without any bike infrastructure. Similarly, driving and parking continue to be cheap and convenient. At my workplace, for instance, construction has just begun on a massive expansion of a parking ramp, and in the hotly debated downtown redevelopment project of Judge Doyle Square, free or heavily subsidized parking seems to be a mostly unquestioned component of the plan.

Update 9/19: Here's a chart of all modes for 2006-14:
Commute share 2006–2014. Data: American Community Survey