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Poring over the 2009 American Community Survey Numbers

I’ve been poring over the 2009 American Community Survey numbers this morning, looking at the 70 largest U.S. cities and their bike to work data. Notwithstanding my colleague Darren’s caveats about the limitations of the data, all of which are valid and important to remember, it’s pretty interesting to see what’s happening at the 60,000 foot level.

For example, some of the “better” cities were worried that after a year of phenomenal growth in 2008, the numbers would look bad in 2009. That didn’t really happen – Portland and Minneapolis dropped 2% and 10% respectively but are still well ahead of the pack of large cities; Portland’s change is well within the margin of error of the survey; and their long term trends are both still really impressive! Overall, it was encouraging to see that there was no decline given many predictions that use would return to its pre-gas price hike level.

From a Bicycle Friendly Community perspective, we were glad to see that some of our newer awardees consolidated their status with good growth: new bronze’s Pittsburgh (76%), Baltimore (72%), Indianapolis (62%), and Tulsa (50%) all posted impressive gains in 2009, as did San Antonio at 25%. There were BIG increases posted in existing BFCs like Colorado Springs (166%) and Lexington, Ky. (137%) and some similarly whopping increases in un-designated cities that are perhaps more surprising – look at Atlanta (111%), Dallas (219%), Raleigh (122%) and Virginia Beach (192%) among the surprises. We weren’t so surprised to see New Orleans (174%), Omaha (151%), Kansas City (53%) and Boston (36%) on the list, as we know how hard they are trying to get on the leader board.

Again, all these numbers are relative. Try finding a Dutch city with a 5.81% mode share for bikes (Portland’s U.S. chart-topping 2009 number); if there is one, it would be considered terribly bike-hostile and would probably be disowned (or given to the Belgians)!

Another thing I looked for: how are my tips for “cities to watch” in the next couple of years doing? Long Beach had a year of consolidation with 6% growth; San Francisco moved ahead of Sacramento with ten percent growth, and would have had Salt Lake City (SLC) right behind them if the latter was just a little bit bigger. Recently upgraded silver level SLC had a 2.65% bike mode share but isn’t one of the 70 largest cities.

You can now see the commuter rates for biking, walking, public transportation, and driving alone for 2000-2009.

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