By Tim Henderson, Stateline.org
WASHINGTON — If a 90-minute commute from Brooklyn to New Jersey sounds grueling in a car, just imagine it on a bicycle.
Until a recent job change, 40-year-old Peter Schneider made that daily trip, biking 22 miles from his home in Brooklyn to his marketing job in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. — and he loved it. “Commuting and exercising at the same time kills two birds with one stone,” he said.
Cycling to work wouldn’t have been possible, Schneider said, without the protected bike lanes of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, a 32-mile route that circumnavigates the island of Manhattan.
Communities across the country are weighing similar routes, believing that a cycling-friendly reputation will help them attract millennials and the creative and economic energy that comes with them.
“States and cities are competing for the most mobile generation ever and so the job creators and the innovators are really pushing for these amenities,” said Bill Nesper, who heads the “Bicycle Friendly America” program at the League of American Bicyclists. “Baby boomers want to live near millennial children and their grandchildren, so we’re really seeing Washington and most major cities seeing this as a way to attract and keep talented people.”
States with the highest commuting rates by bicycle are in the West, according to a Stateline review of Census Bureau data from the 2012 American Community Survey. In Alaska (1.1 percent), California (1.1 percent), Colorado (1.5 percent), Hawaii (1.2 percent), Montana (1.6 percent), Oregon (2.5 percent), and Wyoming (1.2 percent), more than 1 percent of commuters pedal to work.
In contrast, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia all have bike commuting rates of less than 0.2 percent.
Nationwide, less than 1 percent of workers commute by bike. Bike commuters are mostly 16-44 years old, and male cyclists outnumber women by almost 3-to-1, according to the Stateline analysis.
But the rates are significantly higher in cities such as Washington, D.C (4.1 percent of all commutes) and Brooklyn (1.5 percent), where residential areas are close to workplaces. People between the ages of 16 and 34, a significant portion of the population in those cities, have shown the greatest interest in alternatives to cars, driving 23 percent less on average than they did at the turn of the century, according to a study published last year.
Though its bike commuter percentage is lower than that of some other states, Washington state has topped the list of bike-friendly states compiled by The League of American Bicyclists for seven years in a row. It gets especially high marks for educating and encouraging cyclists. Much of the credit for that ranking goes to Seattle, which has a bike commuting rate of 4.1 percent. The city is known for its innovative pavement markings and plans to put protected lanes near every home.
Davis, Calif., is another standout. The self-proclaimed “Bicycle Capital of America,” which is home to the U.S. Cycling Hall of Fame, has a bike commuting rate of nearly 20 percent, including 14 percent of female commuters.
Among large cities, Portland, Ore., has spurred tremendous growth in bike commuting with its aggressive program of protected lanes and other bike-friendly programs, like bicycle-sensitive traffic signals. Lately the city has embarked on a system of “greenway” streets where stop signs are minimized and there are speed bumps to calm traffic.
Between 1990 and 2009, the percentage of Portland commuters traveling by bike increased from 1 percent to 5.8 percent, more than any other large city, according a 2011 study of U.S. and Canadian cities by John Pucher at Rutgers University. The popularity of biking in Portland has even spawned a colorful cyclist character named Spyke on the television comedy “Portlandia.” Spyke pedals the streets proclaiming, “Bicycle rights!”
“Portland’s comprehensive package of cycling policies has succeeded in raising cycling levels sixfold and provides an example that other North American cities can follow,” according to Pucher.
The biggest single reason for a low ranking, Nesper said, is a lack of bike “infrastructure,” including dedicated bike lanes, signs, and protective barriers.
“In order to be a really great, high-performing bike-friendly community like Portland, Seattle, or Minneapolis, you have to make bicycle trips easier but you also need to give bicyclists a place to ride that is their own. That’s what’s going to attract those people who are still on the sidelines,” he said.
Photo: Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr
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