A bike commuter picks up a swag bag at Ordinary Bike Shop during Bike to Work Week.

The Tucson region is no longer in the top 10 for bike commuters.

Based on data released by the census’ American Community Survey on Tuesday, the percentage of people commuting by bike in the region fell from 2.04 percent in 2008 to 1.87 percent in 2009.

The small drop, combined with other major cities’ increases, dropped the area from No. 8 to No. 12.

Tom Thivener, Tucson’s bike and pedestrian program manager, said the amount the region dropped is within the margin of error.

“It is relatively insignificant, the amount we have dropped,” Thivener said.  “We seem to be hovering right around 2 percent where we have been for the last 10 years.”

Pima Association of Governments planner Ann Chanecka said the numbers weren’t a surprise and match with the data from PAG’s manual bike count.

“Our bike count showed a more significant drop, but I would attribute that to the weather,” Chanecka said. “Overall I think they line up pretty well.”

Matt Zoll, Pima Count’s bike and pedestrian program manager, said it is important to remember that the survey only collects information about people biking to work. He said some past studies have shown that more than 20 percent of people in the region ride occasionally.

“All bike trips are important,” Zoll said.

Thivener said the data can be helpful.

“It is handy to have the data to see where we are at,” Thivener said. “I like to look at the data and see what the trends are. What cities are seeing a spike in use and then trying to find out what they attribute that success to so we can continue learning from other communities.”

Other interesting details about the numbers:

  • Portland and Minneapolis both saw decreases.
  • New Orleans jumped from less than one percent to nearly 2.5 percent, which was an increase of 147 percent.
  • According to a blog post on the League of American Bicyclists’ website, the share of people riding to work remained steady at one half of one percent despite gas prices falling.

The LAB’s blog also noted some limitations about the survey.

In addition, the ACS and the decennial Census undercount bicycle commuting levels. They ask for the principal mode of travel the worker usually used to get from home to work during the previous week.

Workers were asked to list only the means of transportation they used on the largest number of days in that week. This means that if the respondent rode a bicycle to work two days but drove three, they would not be counted as a cyclist. Likewise, workers were asked only for the means of transportation used for the longest distance during the trips. If someone biked one mile to a bus stop and rode the bus for two miles they would not be recorded as a bicyclist.

Thivener put together a presentation comparing Tucson to the top five large cities over the last nine years based on data from the survey.

Download it here.

Download the LAB’s PDF listing the largest 70 cities and their 2009 survey numbers.

6 thoughts on “Tucson no longer a top 10 bike-commuting city”
  1. “Our bike count showed a more significant drop, but I would attribute that to the weather,” Chanecka said.

    That’s a rather curious statement, isn’t it? Ever been to Seattle, Portland, or Minneapolis (top three on the list)?

  2. I think Ann will reply to this also, but I believe the temperatures during the bike count were almost record lows during the counts–in the high 30s for lows and not much above 50 for highs. It was kind of a cold shock to people accustomed to much warmer temps, and only for a few days right during the counts.

    Although one could say we’re all whimps for not cycling at that time (I did cycle though), I think it was enough of a physical and psychological shock to either keep people indoors or for some people to drive, walk, carpool or take the bus instead.


  3. I should have explained that a little better. The weather on the days of the count were unseasonably cold.

    They were close to freezing and one day may have even broken a record for it being cold.

    While it wasn’t cold by Minneapolis standards, it was certainly cold by ours.

    I remember riding into work that day and it was frigid.

    I am trying to figure out what time frame the ACS is sent out. If it is in the spring and summer, you’ll probably see higher rates in the places you mentioned.

    The survey just asks for what way you got to work the most in the last week.

  4. 72% of people drive alone and only 2% ride bikes? That’s just sad. I’m trying to save the world and everyone else is trying to kill it. : ( We need some public service announcements or commercials on TV asking people to supplement their car with a bike at least once a day. Tucson is the perfect place for bikes, we should be up in the 10% range.

  5. Interesting that New Orleans, with overall population decrease, had increase percentage. Perhaps because lower income people without cars–so they commute by bike– are many of the people who remained in New Orleans?

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