Bicycle Commuting up Nine Percent


I was driving through one of Henrico County’s most heavily traveled intersections at Parham Road and Patterson Avenue a few days ago when I encountered a remarkable sight: two bicyclists waiting at the stoplight. They weren’t riding together. One was traveling north on Parham and the other heading east on Patterson.

That location is the last spot I’d expect to find anyone riding a bicycle — the suburban roads are totally engineered for the movement of automobiles. But there they were. That’s when it dawned on me: utility cycling isn’t just for downtown Richmond. It’s spreading everywhere.

No questions, change is afoot, or perhaps I should say, apedal. The U.S Census’s American Community Survey has just released data showing that bicycle commuting in the United States increased 9 percent last year, bringing it to an all-time high.

Cycling still remains a tiny transportation-mode niche, accounting for only six-tenths of one percent of the commuting public. But it looms increasingly important in transportation policy. Those 865,000 cyclists are not driving cars, taking up parking spaces and generating pollution.

Moreover, as the D.C. Streets Blog notes, “the growth in bicycling isn’t taking place in a vacuum.” Large cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are competing to add the most bike lanes. Even Indianapolis and Memphis are expanding bicycle infrastructure. “Any wagers on how much bike commuting will increase in next year’s Census?”

Meanwhile, the bicycle industry is continually innovating, offering cool new designs and hybrid products like electric bicycles, which makes cycling attractive to new categories of riders.

The bad news is that walking to work is shrinking as a share of commutes, surely a disappointment to those (like me) who hoped that the resurgence of downtown living and building of more walkable, mixed-use communities would lessen dependence upon the automobile. It will take decades to entice a majority of Americans out of their cars — indeed, given continued automotive innovations that make driving cars more attractive, that goal may never be achieved.


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13 responses to “Bicycle Commuting up Nine Percent”

  1. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    Jim must have had the good fortune to run in with the only two cyclists in Richmond who obey the traffic laws. Last Monday we nearly were hit head on by a cyclist going the wrong way in a lane on Vine street in the fan. Until a few receive tickets for violations as motorists do this is not a safe and viable option for a significant portion of Fan residents. I don’t think floyd Ave will translate into Floydgracht.

    1. I have far, far more trouble with people fiddling with their phones to be honest.

      It’s like a disease. They can’t wait until they get to a parking lot or even a traffic signal – nope… they have to do it while driving.

      bikers tend to be a little on the dumb side .. i.e. “you kill me, and it’s your fault” while the phone users are like squirrels running across the road…..

      and remember ..many of these folks are parents and/or hold real jobs where their employer relies on their good judgment…

  2. You’re right — if cyclists want equal rights on the road, they have equal obligations to obey the traffic laws. Maybe a few do need to get arrested.

    1. gwelymernans Avatar

      As a daily bike commuter, I completely agree. There are a plenty of horrible cyclists, especially in the VCU area. The school, itself, needs to and can easily deal with this issue. They only need to add a mandatory bicycle safety session to their freshmen orientation schedule. They could cover bike laws, bicycle safety measures and the available bike routes and parking.

      I, personally, have taken to yelling from my bike at other bikers who are blatantly running lights or riding the wrong way down a street.

      I would like to address your comment on Floyd Ave, however. Regardless of my status as a bike commuter (taking Floyd everyday to and from work), I don’t think any kind of vehicular through traffic belongs on a road like Floyd. It is a residential street and only that. We have plenty of East-West throughways to handle the commuter traffic (Main, Cary, Monument, Broad, not to mention 195). I am not advocating the removal of all car traffic from Floyd, but I do think that what the city has planned (intersections that force traffic off of Floyd) is necessary to keep the commuter traffic out of the Museum District and Fan neighborhoods.

    2. onelasttime Avatar

      If motorists want equal rights on the road, they should start yielding to pedestrians and stop speeding down residential Fan streets.

  3. A big part of this is adopting laws that adequately protect cyclists. Last year, anti-dooring and tailgating legislation was killed in the House.

    Virginia also lacks a vulnerable user law that would apply to cyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, or others. These laws are pretty common in other states.

    Additionally, including bike lanes on roads and adequate shoulders are helpful – Maryland requires much larger shoulders than VDOT on primary roads.

    As someone who rode a bike 4,200 miles across the United States, I’ve seen it all, but if we’re going to encourage cycling, we need to bring out traffic code and engineering standards up to speed to make cycling safe as well.

  4. I commute regularly by bicycle from my home near Vienna to downtown DC. It’s between 13 and 14 miles. My eyeballed estimate would be that bicycle commuting is considerably more common now than it was just a few years ago – certainly in my corridor, it’s probably much more than the 9% figure in the post.

    I also have the impression that drivers are a lot better than they used to be about looking for bicyclists. I see fewer instances of sheer obliviousness that used to scare the crap out of me at least once or twice a trip. Part of this is bicyclists using bright lights and colors even in the day, but it also is simply that motorists now are sharing roads with a great many more bicyclists than once was the case.

    DC and Arlington County have done a lot to create well-marked bike lanes in logical corridors. I don’t see as much of that in Fairfax County. The biggest limitation on safe year-round bicycle commuting for me is poor lighting on the trails, particularly in the winter months. If any of you are at death’s door and are puzzled about how to dispose of your estate, a bequest to provide adequate lighting on the W&OD trail will enable your memory to live in glory for generations to come. Think about it.

  5. geeze Scout – I thought W&OD was a power line corridor! You can shame the electric company into squeezing out a few lights ?


    I agree about the “blinker” LEDs – they are excellent.

    Up our way or down from your way – we see more motorcyclists harmed than bicyclists. People apparently do not “see” motorcyclists like they “see” bicyclists…for some reason.

    looks like in Va there are about 15 bike fatalities and twice as many motorcycle fatalities ( realizing it’s not a percent of total for each).

  6. This “seeing” issue is really a “look for” issue. When we drive, most of us are sensitized to look for other automobiles and to observe their behaviour in relationship to ours on the road. A lot of drivers simply have not sensitized themselves to scan for bicyclists and motorcycles in the same way they do for automobiles. My sense (purely anecdotal) that things are a bit better in Northern Virginia/DC is based on the premise that more bikes on the road have caused drivers to start incorporating bike awareness into their scan patterns.

    It is scary dark on W&OD in the winter. Big lights help a bit, but I often come up fast on pedestrians/dog walkers who don’t have any lights at all. Also debris on the trail can throw off your balance more than it would in the daytime. Maybe you’re right about those overhead power lines. There might be enough juice in those that we could get an induction system running,

  7. re: “see” vs “look” – good point.

    many folks these days drive – too fast for conditions – even on surface streets. They are unable to stop if something unexpected happens in front of them and it don’t help that too many not only drive too fast for conditions – but they’re fiddling with their phones at the same time!

    this is one reason why I favor round-a-bouts at intersections and even mid-intersections. It pretty much forces people to back down on the speed and to focus their attention on navigating.

    and it has real benefits – from having intersections that “work” even in power outages, save money, crashes that do happen are not higher-speed T-bones but fender-benders, and bike/ped can have safer passage.

    round-a-bouts can also defeat cut-through traffic from the main thoroughfares.

  8. […] Bicycle Commuting Up Nine Per Cent Bacon’s Rebellion (VA) – September 20, 2013 That location is the last spot Iā€™d expect to find anyone riding a bicycle ā€” the suburban roads are totally engineered for the movement of automobiles. But there they were. […]

  9. billsblots Avatar

    When I was young (summer 1972, after our VW beetle broke down) I bicycled 500 miles through the northwest U.S. from Eugene, through the mountains and logging highways of Oregon and northern California to Fortuna-Eureka. Looking back I wonder why I wasn’t scared as shizzle with logging trucks whizzing by from behind on narrow 2-lane mountain roads just 2 and 3 feet off my left elbow.

    I would bicycle to work 18 miles to Richmond now if I trusted the drivers to share one of the two lanes in each direction. Without biking lanes on Route 1 a biker seriously impedes traffic that is expecting to be traveling at least 45 mph. Even wearing fire truck lime green helmet and vest I know drivers would not be looking out for me.

    After work one evening I drove out route 5 east of Richmond, a long route home, hoping to see the viable bike route vaguely depicted on the Official Virginia Bike map. After about 12 miles east of I-295 I still didn’t see any bike lanes, the official VDOT bike map be damned. Saturday mornings there are a goodly number of recreational bikers up and down Route 5 towards Williamsburg but until separate bike lanes are created it is really dangerous mixing with 60 mph cars in a hurry to get to their next place. Until then I’ll bike through housing areas down to the county park and make a few laps.

    Bike lanes cost money, and of course better if planned for in the first place. But this is not Orange County, CA, and gouging out even more land on the sides for bike paths will just not be done in most cases.

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