What's Missing On Bike To Work Day? Data.

Friday, May 16, 2014 - 11:42 AM

Bicyclists in D.C. (Kurt Raschke/flickr)

Before rain began soaking the Washington metropolitan area Friday, more than 15,000 people were expected to participate in local Bike to Work Day festivities, after last year’s record-setting 14,000 cyclists.

Even though just a fraction of D.C. commuters get to work by bike on a daily basis, the number has swelled over the past decade. The U.S. Census says 3.1 percent of commuters in the District bicycle to work, up from 1.2 percent in 2000. Those figures tell only part of the biking success story, though.

But in a city where bicycling infrastructure continues to expand — where growing numbers of new residents live car-free or car-light — advocates contend that bicyclists are under counted, leading to a disproportionately low investment in protected cycle tracks and other initiatives.

Data is missing

The District Department of Transportation has an idea of how many people bike not only to work but for all trips, however imprecise. In addition to Census data, DDOT manually counts cyclists at 30 locations across the city and plans to install automated bike counters at three locations by the end of the year.

The current counting forms a mosaic through which planners target parts of the District for improvements. For instance, DDOT knows more than 300 cyclists per hour use the 15th Street NW protected bike lane, also called a cycle track. It recently was repaved and painted after years of deterioration. But advocates argue non-work trips largely are ignored in the process, depriving regional planners of a clear picture of bicycling demand.

“There are a lot of people getting around on bikes for things other than work, going to the restaurant, going to the movies, trips that are important for economic generation and good for the city. But they are not getting counted,” said Shane Farthing, who runs the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, in an interview along 15th St. bike lane.

“If we actually got that full accounting, we would start to have our elected officials look at this and say, 'why are we spending two, three percent of our transportation budget on bikes when we have this enormous number of people who want to be biking?' It would help overcome that presumption that most people are getting around by car,” he added.

Precise counting difficult

Bicyclists, like other commuters, respond to incentives: build bike lanes and people will use them. Although DDOT contends many city streets already are bike-friendly, the agency has recorded huge jumps in bicycling where it has installed protected (from vehicular traffic) cycle tracks.

“We’ve seen increases of 200 percent, 300 percent. We always get a little boost with a regular bike lane but a protected cycle track really draws people in,” said Jim Sebastian, a District bike planner, referring to specific streets.

District-wide bicycling has increased 10 to 20 percent per year since DDOT began manual counts in 2004, Sebastian said. “We’ve also done some specific counts and surveys in certain neighborhoods with the Council of Governments. One neighborhood, Logan Circle, has about 12 percent of people biking to work.”

While cyclists are undercounted, arriving at a total figure is almost impossible, he said.

“We have a lot of different ways to find out what is going on. There are phone surveys, we have automated counters that we will be putting in, we have the manual counts,” Sebastian said.

“The automated counters will help, but that won’t tell you what everyone is doing everyday on a bike.”

WABA’s Shane Farthing said a comprehensive, region-wide study is necessary. "Once we can actually get a sense of the number of trips being taken, and the value of those trips," he said, "we can start to actually get a proper level of investment in bike infrastructure.”


Comments [5]

Chang from Manhattan

Sorry for many typos. I wrote without glasses.

May. 19 2014 07:53 AM
Chang from Manhattan

Let me asserted this point again. "NYC" has five boroughs n three different traffic situations: Manhattan, vicinities n suburban-like area. In Manhattan, car ownershp is low with subway, bus, sea of yellow cabs n other car service. Now from my observation, bikers in Manhattan r not ABCD (Added Bikers Converted from Drivers). Their Biking mode is an selfish individual alternative to mass transit n cab riding NOT an alternative to non-hybrid car.

BIKE IS BLUE IN MANHATTAN. Bike is green and it deserve sepeate space for promotion ONLY IF bikers gave up non-hybrid cars (sold or left cars in parking lot) n free space. But that is not the case in Manhattan. The way they ride is with complete color blind n illiteratecy of all signs starting from stop sign but ridiculous do not enter sign with except bike sign as if bikers would obey n not entering without it.

Maybe Oleg is exception but most bikers are so and they make MIDTOWN traffic worse (9Ave hell below 57 to Port Authority n Lincoln Tunnel for example). Do you expect NJ commuters triathlon of drive, bus n bike, back n forth? Most of them already not driving n take mass transit. so if they bike it is an alternative to mass transit n cab NOT to driving. Biking in Central Park n gym r healthy. But not in exasperated traffic next to cars. I'm not arguing right and safety. But NOT PROMOTING FOR EVERYBODY who don't have car ownership to begin with, so not contributing for decongestion in compact space which is NOT WASHINTON DC.

May. 19 2014 05:54 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

Oleg, riding a bicycle really doesn't make you special. If anything, you just seem to act very narcissistic when doing it. The truth is that those that commute by bicycle aren't a very big number especially in a big city like NYC where according the US Census Bureau, those that commute to work by bicycle are a fraction of a fraction. Don't mention that riding a bicycle is the only to go green when walking, taking public transportation, or even driving a car that is either electric, hybrid, or just energy efficient is that as well. For the record, I have nothing against those that want to use bicycles, just those who tend to believe that they have a right to flout the laws by ignoring all traffic lights and signs is what I'm really against. Perhaps, if you cyclists started following the traffic laws as well as agreeing to having them licensed, registered, and insured rather than acting like victims to this, I would start taking your kind seriously and feeling more sympathetic. As for the car culture, it's like the WNBA, because no matter how much you hate it, this won't be going away anytime soon.

May. 18 2014 04:20 PM

Tal, the day exists to raise awareness and urge people to try to use alternative ways of commuting, such as using a bike. It's healthy, economical, and can help solve many problems facing cities, such as congestion, parking etc.
think about this next time you are stuck in traffic (you ARE traffic!)
most people never even think of using a bicycle for transportation so having a well defined bike to work day when many coworkers may be biking to work can urge others to try and do the same.
If you have a better idea of how to encourage people to bike to work instead of driving, please suggest them!
Your suggestion for "drive to work" day is frankly idiotic. Every day is drive to work day for approximately 98 percent of Americans.

May. 18 2014 04:19 AM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

I never saw anything special about this day. Honestly, I find it meaningless just like Earth Day, Arbor Day, and so many others. Why does it need a special day? Perhaps, Drive to Work Day should be placed as well. It's not that I don't care, I just don't see the need for something that so many do everyday already. I would be even happier if there was a First Born Day when there already is Mother's Day, Father's Day, and even Grandparents Day.

May. 16 2014 02:25 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.