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Study: More People are Walking, Biking to Work

RP Siegel | Wednesday June 23rd, 2010 | 2 Comments

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) recently published its 15-year update to its National Bicycling and Walking Study. The study was originally commissioned in 1990 by the NHTSC. At that time, fewer than 4.4% of all commuting trips were made by bicycle or on foot, (down from 6.7% in 1980) while at the same time accounting for over 15% of all traffic fatalities.

The study, which had the objectives of determining the current levels of these modes of transportation and developing a plan for increasing participation and safety, took three years to complete. The original study, published in 1994, established the following goals:

  • Double the percentage of total trips  made by bicycling and walking in the United States from 7.9 percent to 15.8 percent of all travel trips
  • Simultaneously reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed or injured in traffic crashes by 10 percent.

Updates, published at five-, 10- and 15-year intervals have reported the status against the goals, as well as describing a number of programs that have helped move the ball towards the stated goals.

Notably, attention to the multitude of benefits that accrue from nonmotorized transportation–improved health, benefits to the economy, environment, quality of life, etc.–led to substantial increases in funding, which rose from $6 million in 1990 to over $1.1 billion in 2009, at which point it constituted 2% of total transportation funding.

A 1990 National Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) stated that 7.2% of all trips were taken by foot while 0.7% were taken by bicycle. Therefore, a doubling of that rate would require that 15.8% of all trips be taken using nonmotorized means. The most recent update, reporting 2009 statistics from the National Household Travel Survey, showed that 10.9% of all trips were taken on foot, while 1.0% of all trips were taken by bike.

The resulting 11.9% total, while showing considerable progress, falls well short of the stated goal. Interestingly, trips on foot grew by a considerable 51.4%, while the number of bicycle trips grew by a somewhat more sluggish 42.9%. The two surveys had slightly different methodologies

On the safety front, things look a little better. Fatalities for pedestrians and cyclists decreased 20.6% and injuries declined by 16.5%, both of which meet the stated goal of the program.

To encourage more people to leave their cars at home, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has allocated $25 million over five years to four communities (Marin County, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Columbia, MO, and Sheboygen County, WI) “to construct … a network of nonmotorized transportation infrastructure facilities, including sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and pedestrian and bicycle trails, that connect directly with transit stations, schools, residences, businesses, recreation areas, and other community activity centers.”

Other programs include Safe Routes to School, and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grants, a $1.5B investment in innovative means of transportation. Of the 51 projects awarded thus far, 24 have nonmotorized elements.

Another new trend is the “complete streets” movement. A complete street is one that provides safe and accessible option for all kinds of transportation, motorized and nonmotorized alike. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, 43 jurisdictions around the country have adapted complete street policies.

As an avid cyclist and work-at-home professional, I ride to meetings, both business and social, every chance I get, though not without some sense of adventure, especially in the downtown area. I always wear a helmet, and ride defensively.

I have calculated that for every mile I ride, I save 10 ounces of CO2 and around 8.6 cents in gas money. (My car gets 32 mpg around town.) So it takes 1.6 miles to save a pound of carbon. I probably save 10-20 pounds of carbon a month, keep an extra $10 bill or more in my pocket and stay in shape, at least while the weather is good. Multiply that by a few million and you’re talking about a pretty substantial impact.

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RP Siegel is the co-author of Vapor Trails, an eco-thriller about an oil spill, set in New Orleans and featuring a young cyclist who rides halfway across the country to attend a sustainability conference.

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  • http://vivbizclub.com/products/biodegradable-food-packaging/compostable-deli-food-containers/ dinesh

    I'm an avid biker as well and must say I'm a bit surprised by these numbers. An increase in funding dollars from $6 million to $1.1 billion is a lot – 15-20x. Even after adjusting for 20 years of inflation it's still a lot (about 10x).

    To only move the needle by .5x on the number of all trips taken by foot or by bicycle feels like fairly week performance.

    I wonder if something like google maps getting bike routes will have an affect on this – information is power and all :-)

  • RP Siegel

    Can't argue that it's not a weak performance, though you do have to factor in the increase in population over the same period, since the reported statistics were as a percentage of population.
    From 1990 to 2009, the US population increased from 258.7 million to 303.5 million an increase of 17%.
    Also, keep in mind that efforts during that time frame required reversing the downward trend of the 80's those wonderful Reagan years when all ecological consequences were temporarily repealed.