NYC Bike Commuting Doubled Since 2009, While Solo Driving Dropped

Trends in how New Yorkers get to work are moving in the right direction. Twice as many New Yorkers went to work by bike last year as in 2009, according to US Census data out today, while transit usage rose 3 percent and driving alone to work dropped 9 percent.

Each year, the Census asks a large sample of Americans to choose the single mode of transportation they most often use to get to and from work. Last year, 1.21 percent of New Yorkers said they usually commute by bike, up from 0.61 percent in 2009. The estimated number of regular bike commuters in New York City is up from 22,619 in 2009 to 46,065 last year, give or take about 4,500 to account for the margin of error [XLS].

Bicycling has the most room to grow of any mode in NYC, but transit commuting is also on the rise. More than 56 percent of New Yorkers — that’s nearly 2.2 million people — commute by transit, up 3 percent from 2009. That increase came as the percentage of residents commuting alone by car dropped to 21.4 percent, down 9 percent from 2009. Even as the population has grown, the number of New Yorkers driving solo to work has dropped from 876,953 in 2009 to 814,612 last year.

New York is still behind the pack of major cities leading the country in bike commute rates. In Portland, Oregon, 5.9 percent of residents go to work by bike, while it’s 4.5 percent in Washington, DC, 3.8 percent in San Francisco, 2.3 percent in Philadelphia, and 1.9 percent in Boston. New York is closing in on the only city of comparable size with a higher bike mode-share — Chicago, where 1.4 percent of residents commute by bike.

In terms of the rate of increase, New York is outpacing the smaller cities too, with bike commuting doubling since 2009. (DC was the only other major city to post a larger gain.) According to the Census, New York now has about the same number of bike commuters as Portland and DC combined.

Much of the progress so far is attributed to the expansion of protected bike lanes under the watch of former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Today, the city has 30 miles of protected on-street lanes. Citi Bike is probably also a factor in last year’s increase, since it launched partway through the year and recorded more than 6 million trips before the end of 2013.

Commute trips account for less than 20 percent of total trips in NYC, and the Census is believed to undercount New York’s immigrant population, so these bike-to-work numbers only tell part of the story. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said earlier this week that DOT estimates about 1.5 percent of all trips in New York City are taken by bike, and the de Blasio administration has set a goal of increasing that number to 6 percent by 2020.

Trottenberg has promised keep up her predecessor’s pace by installing five miles of protected bike lanes each year and, pending a deal between Citi Bike’s operator and an investor, expanding bike-share next year. Will that be enough to get to 6 percent?

  • Komanoff

    I can’t say enough about the clarity of this post, including but not limited to the graphics. It’s such a pleasure to see a huge mass of data distilled so intelligently.

    A few observations: (i) even if the absolute numbers are still under-reported, the doubling in cycle commuting reported for 2013 over 2009 feels right, per my own observations — more so than the higher increases that DOT had been reporting but that were drawn from its (selective) screenlines; (ii) in absolute-number terms, it looks like ~40% of the reported increase in cycle commuting was numerically offset by the reported drop in walk commuting; it would be interesting to know how many of the former walkers are now cycling; (iii) also in number terms, the growth in cycle commuting was one-third as great as the increase in transit commuting; those two heartening increases are linked in lots of ways.

  • David

    EXCEPT! Although the graphs are pretty they are misleading (visually, not the actual numbers) As you switch bar charts they all seem kinda comparable when in fact there’s huge variation in the numbers. I think it would be clearer if the scale stayed the same across each transit mode

  • Fish

    Way to miss Seattle in your list of cities with the highest % of bike commuters. We are over 4%.

  • It’s just a sample of cities with higher mode-share than NYC, not a list of the cities with the highest mode share.

  • SheRidesABike

    I noticed that, too, and took offense for my former place of residence. Where is the love for Seattle, Streetsblog!? 😉

  • SheRidesABike

    The scale does stay the same across modes in the comprehensive chart in the middle of the article. Think of the bar charts at top as drilling down on individual modes meant to compare changes over time only in that mode but taking up less blog real estate than embedding 4 separate bar charts in the post.

  • The charts are primarily intended to convey the rate of change over time. If they were scaled the way you suggest, it would be difficult to discern the changes in biking and driving solo to work.

  • Kevin Love

    I note that Seattle is in 188th place for cycling cities.
    Source:

    http://www.cityclock.org/urban-cycling-mode-share/#.VBtYpfldV8F

  • Kevin Love

    It is interesting to see that there is no “motor vehicle passenger or drives with others” category.

  • millerstephen

    There is a carpool category but I chose not to include it in the article. You can click through to the data source in the graphs to take a look at the full detail of Census data.

  • J

    Woo hoo! Check out DC! Suck it, SF and New York.

  • Den Van Allsburg

    Any thought on how new technologies like the Solowheel might reshape these statistics in future years?

  • Maggie

    I end up wondering, does ACS also query on the distance of commutes? Seems like that would also be very valuable info, for innumerable reasons.

  • MrBadExample

    My thought as well. Only the most ambitious riders try to do a daily bike commute above 6 miles each way. But NYC’s gentrification and skyrocketing rent is moving more and more potential riders out of that sweet spot.

  • I’d say that you might find a feasibility threshold for commuting at the distance of 10 miles each way, or a commute of just about an hour. Even those people who don’t think of themselves as particularly ambitious can see bicycling as an option if the travel time is only an hour.

    In most cases, this sort of travel time will be competetive with the subway, when one factors in the walks to and from the stations, the wait for the train, and any transfers.

  • butbutbut

    Well, maybe, but see the undercount of immigrants. It may well be that gentrification and skyrocketing rent is moving more and more potential riders INTO that sweet spot.

  • Bit of trivia: If not for NYC’s increase, the national bike commuting estimate would not have increased from 2012-2013. NYC’s net growth is enough to account for essentially all the national net growth. (Standard disclaimer: imprecise margins of error etc.)

    To the extent that these figures are accurate, the years of effort-free mode shifts seem to be over for now; all the biking growth is coming from the handful of cities that have spent a few years working pretty hard at it.

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Congratulations, America. We’re biking to work more than ever before. We’ve known for a while that Americans are driving less than they used to, even as the economy grows. And just about every quarter, the American Public Transportation Association delivers more stats about increasing transit ridership. Now the Census brings another measure of Americans’ shifting transportation […]