25 January 2019

More Bike Lanes, Fewer Commuters

In yesterday's post, I mentioned a Seattle train station where bike parking "sucks".

It may be one of the reasons why the number of Emerald City commuters who get to work by bike fell by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Still, Seattle remains one of the top US cities for bicycle commuting, at least in terms of the percentage of people who say they go by bike.  Its decline was, however, more precipitous than that of the US as a whole, where bicycle commuting fell by 3.2 percent during the same period.

The USA Today article in which I came across these statistics said the declines came in spite of the increasing number of bike lanes and other efforts made by cities to become more "bike friendly".  To be fair, the article also points out that the price of gasoline has dropped during the past several years, which enticed more people to drive.  It also points out, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, that some passengers of Uber, Lyft and other "ride shares" are using those services in lieu of cycling.

One thing the article hinted at is something I've long suspected:  that, in the years before "ride sharing" services became popular, bicycle commuting might have been increasing in dense urban areas, but not in suburban and rural areas.  In the suburbs, as I pointed out in yesterday's post, there isn't bicycle parking at rail and bus stations commuters use to get to their jobs in the city.  And, in rural areas (and outer-ring suburbs), some commutes are simply too long to do by bicycle.  

Here is something else I've noticed:  People who move to the city to be near their jobs are mostly young and making relatively good salaries.  Some of them commute by bicycle, though most take mass transit or "ride shares."  But once they get married and have children, they want to buy houses.  Unless they are making very high salaries, that means moving some distance from the city.

So, my analysis, for what it's worth, goes like this:  Whether bicycle commuting increases or decreases from year to year, it will mainly be a practice of young, affluent and single people in central areas of cities--unless society, the economy and policies change.  Until housing in cities becomes more affordable, and tax policies don't encourage fossil fuel consumption, the typical bike commuter will be putting his or her laptop in the front basket of a bike-share bike he or she will ride to the office.


  1. Hey Justine... I'm in the middle of reading the book "Bikenomics" by Elly Blue, as part of a bicycle advocacy group's book club. If I was to boil the book down to it's essence, I would say it key point is bicycle's could save the world, and it's key "call-to-arms" is the steps one could take within their own community to increase bicycle usage. If you could, could you expand on your analysis that "bicycle commuting is mainly a practice of young, affluent, single, central city dwellers? In Bikenomics, I don't really think this same analysis comes up... many of the singular ideals are there (like central city dwellers are more likely to commute, because they are more likely to live within a few miles of their job). Thanks in advance (and a shout out for your blog, I enjoy reading about your outings and concerns).

  2. Virgil--Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think I'll take another post to expand on my observation about bicycle commuters. And I'll check out Elly Blue's book!

  3. Thanks... I look forward to your expanded comments.