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An overview of commuting from the US Census Bureau (not just bikes)

The 2010 US Census Bureau American Community Survey (ACS) bike to work data that we analyzed this week and last has sparked a lot of conversation and press coverage as communities gauges their biking levels and compare themselves to one another. Not surprisingly, we tend to zero in on the biking data. But there is a whole world of journey-to-work data out there in the ACS results.

That’s where Brian McKenzie and Melanie Rapino at the US Census bureau come in. They reviewed the 2009 ACS journey to work data to give us all a general overview of commuting in America.

The first point they make is a very important one, especially for those of us interested in cycling levels:

In the United States, commutes make up less than 20 percent of all trips taken.

Commutes can present challenges to bicycling that don’t necessarily exist for other utilitarian trips. They’re a fixed distance. We don’t all have the luxury of living near work. Sometimes our commutes are outside of comfortable biking distance. Sometimes there a dress code, and nowhere to get cleaned up. Sometimes bikes aren’t allowed in our work buildings. We don’t all work at Bicycle Friendly Businesses. But none of this means that we don’t ride for other purposes. Our need to look at commuting data — because¬†consistent, comparable data for different geographic areas isn’t readily available — means that we’re only learning about one in five of all of the trips we’re making. The need for better data is considerable.

That said, there’s ¬†a lot we can learn from commuter travel data. The folks at the Census Bureau made the following observations (taken directly from their report):

Commuting highlights from the 2009 ACS are:

  • ¬†Over three-quarters of the nation‚Äôs workers drove alone to work.
  • Workers took an average of 25.1 minutes to get to work.
  • Hispanic workers carpooled at a rate of 16.4 percent, compared with 9.5 percent for non-Hispanic workers.
  • The rate of public transportation usage among the foreign-born population was 10.8 percent,¬† more than twice that of the native-born population, at 4.1 percent.
  • Suburban workers drove alone at a rate of 81.5 percent, compared with 72.1 percent for workers living inside of a principal city.
  • The New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA Metro Area had the longest average commute, at 34.6 minutes.
  • The 10 metro areas with the shortest average commute times have populations of fewer than 300,000 people.
Using the 2009 ACS data for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (not the city geographies that we use), they put together these tables for bicycling and walking:
Read the whole report.
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