NYC Bike Commuting Doubled Since 2009, While Solo Driving Dropped

Trends in how New Yorkers get to work are moving in the right direction. Twice as many New Yorkers went to work by bike last year as in 2009, according to US Census data out today, while transit usage rose 3 percent and driving alone to work dropped 9 percent.

Each year, the Census asks a large sample of Americans to choose the single mode of transportation they most often use to get to and from work. Last year, 1.21 percent of New Yorkers said they usually commute by bike, up from 0.61 percent in 2009. The estimated number of regular bike commuters in New York City is up from 22,619 in 2009 to 46,065 last year, give or take about 4,500 to account for the margin of error [XLS].

Bicycling has the most room to grow of any mode in NYC, but transit commuting is also on the rise. More than 56 percent of New Yorkers — that’s nearly 2.2 million people — commute by transit, up 3 percent from 2009. That increase came as the percentage of residents commuting alone by car dropped to 21.4 percent, down 9 percent from 2009. Even as the population has grown, the number of New Yorkers driving solo to work has dropped from 876,953 in 2009 to 814,612 last year.

New York is still behind the pack of major cities leading the country in bike commute rates. In Portland, Oregon, 5.9 percent of residents go to work by bike, while it’s 4.5 percent in Washington, DC, 3.8 percent in San Francisco, 2.3 percent in Philadelphia, and 1.9 percent in Boston. New York is closing in on the only city of comparable size with a higher bike mode-share — Chicago, where 1.4 percent of residents commute by bike.

In terms of the rate of increase, New York is outpacing the smaller cities too, with bike commuting doubling since 2009. (DC was the only other major city to post a larger gain.) According to the Census, New York now has about the same number of bike commuters as Portland and DC combined.

Much of the progress so far is attributed to the expansion of protected bike lanes under the watch of former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Today, the city has 30 miles of protected on-street lanes. Citi Bike is probably also a factor in last year’s increase, since it launched partway through the year and recorded more than 6 million trips before the end of 2013.

Commute trips account for less than 20 percent of total trips in NYC, and the Census is believed to undercount New York’s immigrant population, so these bike-to-work numbers only tell part of the story. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said earlier this week that DOT estimates about 1.5 percent of all trips in New York City are taken by bike, and the de Blasio administration has set a goal of increasing that number to 6 percent by 2020.

Trottenberg has promised keep up her predecessor’s pace by installing five miles of protected bike lanes each year and, pending a deal between Citi Bike’s operator and an investor, expanding bike-share next year. Will that be enough to get to 6 percent?