Photo anyjazz65 via flickr.
The American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau has been out for about two weeks, and if you can figure out how to look at the tables, it tells an interesting story about bike commuting. The Census doesn't collect bike use data per se, but it does periodically survey which type of vehicle or method people use to get to their jobs, and as biking is one of those methods, we can get a snapshot of how many dedicated bike commuters there are in the U.S. The good news? Dedicated bike commuting is grew about 38% in the last eight years. But if women are truly the indicator species for a successful bike infrastructure, lots of states aren't getting it right.
Women cyclists almost extinct in some statesThe most dismal U.S. states to bike in, if we count simply by the number of women declaring to the census that they use a bike to get to work, are Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama, and Arkansas. Puerto Rico, also surveyed on the question, was similarly quite dismal. Mississippi had just 209 declared female cycling commuters, Delaware just 210, while West Virginia had 326, Alabama had 431, and Arkansas had 461. Puerto Rico declared 318 female cyclists. While none of these states lost female cyclists since 2003 (in 2000 the data for cycling commuters is not sex separated), the gains are vanishingly small.
In some cases the pitiful increase in female cyclists is made more stark by a big relative rise in the number of males bike commuting. In Mississippi, for example, bike commuters in total jumped from 842 in the year 2000 to 2,948 total in 2008 (of which, 2,739 were males). Delaware lost cyclists overall, as did West Virginia. Alabama and Arkansas made modest gains.
If, as Linda Baker hypothesizes in a recent Scientific American article, getting more people on bikes in general means catering to the needs of women with safer, less risk bike lanes, we can guess that these states aren't doing their best.
In the U.S., is the reverse true, then? Do states with the biggest gains in commuting cyclists, according to Census figures, provide the best cycling infrastructure? In Oregon, for example, which more than doubled its dedicated bike commuters from 18,666 in 2000 to 37,582 last year, the answer would be yes, as the state arguably has some of the best bike infrastructure. It also has a male-to-female cycling ratio of approximately 3-to-1 -- not great compared to some numbers in Europe, but one of the best in the U.S.
New York, which has worked very hard to improve its bike lanes, increased its dedicated commuter cyclists by one-third -- from 32,252 in 2000 to 43,186 in 2008. In this state there is a 4-to1 male to female ratio. (However, the 2008 numbers may be too old to reflect more women traveling the new paths). And as Baker noted, a study of off-street bike paths in Central Park showed 44% female riders.
All in all, the Census numbers are probably too specific to give a true picture of all U.S. bike commuters, as some of us use different modes to get to work on different days, and may not consider ourselves dedicated to any one mode. But the do tell us where the big gains in bike commuting are occurring (Oregon, New York, and surprisingly, Ohio) and also where the losses in bike commuters are happening (Missouri, Delaware, and unexpectedly, Indiana).
And they point out some little oddities. In Rhode Island, for example, the smallest U.S. state by area, only 1,521 hardy souls are self-declared bicycle commuters -- 631 of them are women (41%). Go, Ocean State!