This is the first in a series of more wonky posts that take a closer look at bicycle use in Milwaukee during bike to work week. I will try to focus each post on one particular question raised by the statistics. I hope this question will start a discussion in the comments section of each post.
By all accounts more people are biking to work in Milwaukee more often. This is a national trend, and I will delve into the growth in cycling in Milwaukee in another post tomorrow. Today I am looking more closely at the numbers to see if they reveal any interesting differences between Milwaukee and other cities.
The main source of statistics today is the American Community Survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The ACS asks only one question about bicycle use and here it is:
Note that the question does not ask how a person gets to work most of the time, during nice weather, etc. So if a person taking the survey typically bikes, but didn’t due to bad weather they don’t count. Or if the person biked to work 2 of 5 days, they are not counted as a bike commuter. Despite the obvious limits of this question, it is the best thing we have to compare one city to another. So what are the numbers in Milwaukee? I have drilled down to pull out just the journey to work data since 2006.
The rows highlighted in yellow show our total bicycle “mode share” or mode split. These are simply the number and percentage of the total of all commuters who checked “Bicycle” in question 25. As you can see, Milwaukee is only at a little over 1%, while Portland leads large cities at about 6% and Minneapolis leads cold weather large cities at a bit above 4%. As I wrote above, I will look more closely at these general numbers tomorrow, but today I want to talk about something that immediately jumped out at me when I pulled this info together.
What I find most interesting in these statistics is that Milwaukee has far fewer women biking as a percentage than other cities. These are the figures in pink. Milwaukee women only make up about 13% of the total number of bike commuters, but they make up 38% to 25% in all the other cities. That is a significant statistical difference. Even Chicago, which has a very similar mode share to Milwaukee, women make up 25% of the bicycle commuters.
I would love to hear from readers with ideas why women in Milwaukee bike to work less than women in other large cities. There are lots of more general reasons I can think of why women bike in fewer numbers than men. But I would like to look at what is so different about the biking culture in Milwaukee than other cities. Ideas?
No matter what, I think this points to a need to do more to promote utilitarian bicycle use among women in Milwaukee.