A Substantial Increase in U.S. Bicycle Commuters

The 2008 American Community Survey (conducted and released by the U.S. Census Bureau) data was presented recently.

Good news for bicycle commuters — there are 43% more of us out there than there was in the 2000 Census. People who use a bicycle as their primary means of getting to and from work hovers right around 0.5%…still a tiny fraction, but getting better every year!

Here is some “at a glance” information to peruse, and the complete table from the 2008 ACS (Table S081 — Commuting Characteristics by Sex).

This information and more can be found at the U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent “American Fact Finder“. Take a look for yourself!

Have you noticed more bike commuters on the roads and in the offices where you live and work? I’m running across more and more new faces every week…and while Tampa has a LONG way to go to reach the levels of some of the more bike-friendly cities (Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, etc.), the new faces are giving me hope that people are starting to get it.


  1. Raiyn October 24, 2009 8:31 pm 

    It sounds great, however we have to take it with a grain of salt. There doesn’t seem to be a way of parsing those who ditched the car by choice versus those who were forced out by outside circumstance (economy etc). Sorry, I’m in a glass half-empty mood tonight.

  2. Ghost Rider October 24, 2009 8:46 pm 

    Honestly…do we really care about how or why someone goes from car to bike as a travel mode? Does it even matter? I guess I’m in a glass-half-full mood, because more bikes on the streets means a bigger smile on my face.

  3. Andreas October 25, 2009 2:56 am 

    Its good to hear its up by so much. The increase in cycling in London I know has around about doubled in the past few years. It used to be 1% of trips were done by bike and now 2% are. Doesn’t really compete with Copehagen where its 27% and 55% in inner city. The Mayor here wants to get the cycling up to 5% by 2026 – which in my opinion is not exactly a bold goal.

  4. RL October 25, 2009 7:23 am 

    That’s pretty encouraging. I have seen new faces on the road.

  5. Jack October 25, 2009 7:59 am 

    The same here in Dublin and Ireland generally,a Huge amount taking to the Bike for Commuting and also improving their Health. It does not matter if they are doing it because of Economic Reasons just so long as they are Cycling.

    The more People that Cycle the more Pressure can be put on Government to provide a better Infrastructure. They will no longer be Paying Lip Service to Big Business who are Pro Motorist. There is more of a Pressure Group from Cyclists now instead of heretofore when it was the Petrol Heads.

  6. Raiyn October 25, 2009 12:36 pm 

    I guess where I’m commenting from the position that a good number of those who were forced out of their cars view it as a temporary thing and can’t wait to get back behind the wheel. These are the people who become “guys on bikes” as opposed to cyclists. (The difference has been explained in another thread) I’d rather have 5 people riding (and learning) by choice than 50 people who’d rather be driving (and ride like it.).

    It’s not my intent to come off as elitist, but it’s my opinion that “guys on bikes” do more damage to how “Joe Public” views regular cyclists than the full kit roadies do on their traffic law flouting “training rides”.

  7. Jack October 25, 2009 2:22 pm 

    Hopefully these Ex Car Drivers that take up Cycling out of economic Necessity will Learn a New Respect for Cyclists and what a Cyclists Suffers at the Car Drivers Whim . If they ever go Driving again they will be more Civil to and more Accomodating to Cyclists on the Road. Just like in the Netherlands and Denmark where People who Drive also Cycle most of the Time and are more Polite and Civil to Cyclists.

    Hopefully all this Cycling Activity improves the Infrastructure, Dedicated Cycleways, Narrowing the Roads,Decreasing the Speed Limits, Making our Cities and Towns Traffic Free. No Returning to the Bad Old Days of our Landscape being Polluted by Petro Carbons and Roads Chock full of Cars. No more Traffic Super Highways. Pollution is Killing our Planet and also the People.

  8. Raiyn October 25, 2009 4:36 pm 

    @ Jack
    In regards to the first part of your post: It’s a nice thought, but sadly it’s unlikely.

    In regards to the second part: I agree in large part, but I feel that a serious effort needs to be made in the rail infrastructure (particularly in my (and Ghost’s) neck of the woods)

  9. R A N T W I C K October 25, 2009 6:26 pm 

    I have indeed noticed more transportation cyclists out there. Temporary or not, I agree that more bikes on streets means more people who accept it as normal, whether driving a car or a bike. I like seeing more pannier and fender types like me!

  10. Iron_Man October 26, 2009 6:50 am 

    I definitely noticed an increase this past Summer. I’d say, from my highly subjective vantage point, that half or more of the new commuters I saw were taking it pretty seriously. They were decked out in workout and/or cycling clothing, with some sort of pack or bag, and their bikes were better than department store brands. Meaning they didn’t look like the unibomber pedaling his daughter’s pink Huffy.

    Winter and foul weather is upon us and many will hang it up till April, but then again so do many of the folks that visit here regularly and call themselves committed bike commuters. We’ll have to see if their numbers return next Spring.

  11. Dean Peddle October 26, 2009 9:44 am 

    I haven’t notice any new faces but I live in the burbs. When I venture into Toronto…a large city I do notice a greater number of bikes parked outside buildings so that is positive. But I’m dissapointed the burbs are not catching on. Really I think the majority comes down to it’s just too expensive to own a car or drive in the big city and this is where the big numbers are coming from. Now as Ghost says it doesn’t matter how they got there so that’s good. In the burbs people have to drive far to work so they don’t seem to think twice about driving a few block to the grocery store. This is where the work is needed and unfortunalty it just comes down to money. You just aren’t going to get the numbers we want riding unless it becomes too expensive to own or drive a car….it just won’t happen. I want gas to go back to last year prices and even higher!!!

  12. dukiebiddle October 26, 2009 12:31 pm 

    Raiyn , I honestly don’t know how to process your position that people that bicycle out of financial necessity are somehow doing damage to the cycling community. Why? Is it because they look gross when they bicycle? It makes everyone think we’re all unemployed alcoholics who have had our licenses revoked? That we’re all illegal aliens that ride on the sidewalk? (aside: Why do illegal aliens always ride on the sidewalk? Or is that only in my town? Is it illegal to ride in the street in Central America? Seriously wondering about that.)

  13. Raiyn October 26, 2009 1:55 pm 

    A few things I need to put out there:
    I’m not bashing the economically disadvantaged – In my statements above I’m talking about those who were forced onto a bike not those who made the decision for themselves.

    In addition for the record : “guys on bikes” when used as a counterpoint to “cyclist” bears no deference to race, creed, gender, economic status, or any orientation other than direction in traffic..

    The connection I’m attempting to make here is that those who are forced onto a bike often resent the “lesser” form of transportation and largely become “guys on bikes” and not cyclists.

    “Guys on Bikes” is a blanket term to cover other categories including “salmon”, “bike ninjas”, “DUI Specials”, etc. Basically people who either don’t know proper technique / bike safety or couldn’t give the contents of a cat’s litter box to learn.

    To borrow from Ghost:
    Some of the better bike advocacy groups have taken the time to create bilingual “rules of the road” placards they can hand out where “guys on bikes” congregate…and this can work wonders into getting underserved folks to follow the road rules, get some lights on their bikes and stop doing dangerous things that make ALL of us look bad in the eyes of motorists.

  14. Ghost Rider October 26, 2009 3:04 pm 

    I appreciate where Raiyn’s coming from on this…motorists seeing a wrong-way rider at night with no lights, etc. It sends a bad message and it’s certainly possible that we’re ALL lumped in with those “guys on bikes” in the eyes of motorists.

    Frankly, I’m of the belief that we already were lumped in with them, even before the upsurge in cycle commuters. In the less-enlightened cities in the U.S. (of which Tampa is definitely one), a common motorist reaction to bike commuters is, “oh, did you get a DUI?” or the like.

  15. Chip Haynes October 27, 2009 3:13 am 

    Yeah, I see more “Guys on Bikes” here in Clearwater, and I have to say I gave up on trying to educate them years a go. You wanna go down the wrong side of the street at night, no lights, wearing black? Fine. Knock yerself out. Literally. Ghost is right: Drivers don’t see the difference between a GoB and a cyclist that knows what he or she is doing. I try to present a more coherent appeance (I try to at least LOOK as though I know what I’m doing), but in the end, all the driver sees is a slow obstruction in front of them.

    Ah, well- I’ll keep riding anyway.

  16. s carter October 27, 2009 5:49 am 

    great news indeed! however, not super-surprising, especially since the bike industry has been reporting solid sales increases in the “hybrid” category for many years now.

    now, to speed up that process of people switching out of their cars in favour of bikes we need $6/gallon gasoline again asap.

    bring it!

  17. Iron_Man October 27, 2009 7:43 am 

    I’m amazed at the “Bring on the $6/gallon crowd.” no matter how tongue-in-cheek it’s delivered. Even though our commute is immune to the pump the rest of our lives and careers are not. The financial meltdown of 2008 was the result of skyrocketing fuel costs and the home foreclosure mess. So while I get to pedal past the gas station and smile while riding, I don’t get to pedal past a recession and the rising cost of goods—especially food. In essence the argument is “Bring on an economic meltdown so we can have more cyclists!” No thanks, I’d rather have cyclists on the road that love cycling, not cash strapped folks fearing they might lose their house.

  18. Ghost Rider October 27, 2009 9:15 am 

    Iron_Man — I’m as guilty as anyone of uttering the “bring on $6.00 gas!”, but never really thought of the other implications…so you raise an excellent point!

    I wonder, though, at the European perspective. We’ve heard for years about how expensive gasoline is in western Europe, but I don’t recall ever hearing how consumer goods, food and other commodities are frighteningly pricey there …so what’s different over there? I mean, stuff still needs to be transported via truck/train, and if fuel is expensive, shouldn’t everything else be more costly?

    I’d be curious to hear some foreign perspective on this. Anyone?

  19. Raiyn October 27, 2009 12:29 pm 

    @ Ghost re: ‘ “oh, did you get a DUI?” ‘
    *rolls eyes
    I’ve had that conversation more times than I want to count.

  20. Han Kroon October 27, 2009 2:58 pm 

    A message from The Netherlands: You are on the road, but still have a long way to go …..

    Compare the 0.55% with roughly 25% over here. Keep on promoting the bike to work …. “Yes, you can!”

  21. Chip Haynes October 28, 2009 4:45 am 

    There’s something I call “Gump Syndrome”; that is, most drivers figure an adult male on a bicycle is either mentally challenged (a la Forrest Gump) or lost his license from drinking and driving. I use that to my advantage: Please don’ t hit the sad old man on the wobbly folding bicycle.


  22. Ghost Rider October 28, 2009 6:09 am 

    Don’t rub it in, Han!!! 😉

  23. trisha October 28, 2009 6:26 am 

    Totally anecdotal, but I’ve noticed WAY more commuters this fall than last fall here in Nashville. It’s encouraging, even if it’s still a pretty small number.

  24. Scott October 28, 2009 5:58 pm 

    I have seen a great increase in bike commuters. However, it’s mainly due to moving to Davis, CA.

    As far as people being forced to bike, I think it does matter. Every Fall thousands of freshmen start biking only to give it up either when it starts raining or just a few years later when they graduate and move away.

  25. yoshiyahu October 29, 2009 12:38 pm 

    I recently started cycling each day, but not to work — I use a bicycle to get from home to the Long Beach Bikestation, and then ride the Blue Line to downtown LA. MANY folks who ride the Blue Line have bikes that they use to get to and from the train. I wonder whether folks like us are counted in these numbers? I think bikes in commuting have far more potential when combined with bus and rail than when used as the sole method of getting to/from work. I think focusing solely on bicycle-as-primary-mode misses the areas where we can make the most inroads in reducing car use.

  26. Mike Myers November 1, 2009 6:28 am 

    I’ve seen more “Bike Ninjas” lately. Scary, especially since they ride the wrong way at night, without lights, ON SHOULDERLESS ROADS. It’s almost unbeliveable to me. I call the police on them, every time. If they get hit and killed, then the newspaper reports “cyclist killed” and the belief that cycling is dangerous is perpetuated.

    GR knows where I live. People who bike commute by choice and not necessity are rare. There is a never ending supply of DUI cyclists, though. No kids. A few athlete types.

  27. Louis November 5, 2009 8:58 pm 

    For some reason, many people think it’s a hot idea to bike with headphones on or talking on a cell. When you run that red light and miss that oncoming car and end up in the ER or dead, because you were gossiping or had your favorite song blaring, I unfortunately may not be able to help you.

    It won’t be because I don’t have a heart, but because my cell is generally turned off when I bike commute for safety reasons and it make take a moment or two to turn on, so I can’t immediately call 911.

  28. Diane November 11, 2009 11:12 am 

    This finding goes along with what I have seen in the last few years. There has been an explosion in people on bikes and those considering riding. Everytime I am out, I see more and more fellow cyclists. Even here in a suburban west coast city.

    My belief is that this is due to the combination of environmental awareness, recession and high fuel. It does seem that as the economy is picking up around here, that more people are turning to two wheels instead of four. I hope this trend continues.

  29. r4i November 26, 2009 4:47 am 

    It has to be because of increasing pollution out of fuel from all vehicles. Moreover it saves money where we need to spend for fuel, maintenance and so on.

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