Bicycle Commuting up in Wisconsin Cities

Just over 6% of Madison residents biked to work in 2010, a 20% increase over 2009 according to the latest American Community Survey results released late yesterday morning by the US Census Bureau.  That puts Madison in a tie with Portland, OR, which also has 6% of commuters going by bicycle. As a state, .75% of Wisconsin commuters go by bike, which is 50% higher than the national average of .50%.

The League of American Bicyclists have been working on this and so has the staff at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. After a day to drill down into the data, here is the picture for cities in Wisconsin:

City Population Total Workers % Bike Commuters Number of Bike commuters
Appleton 71,747 34,151 0.3% 112
Eau Claire 65,489 36,201 1.3% 487
Green Bay 104,266 48,871 0.4% 174
Kenosha 99,362 43,273 0.5% 206
Madison 233,777 127,566 6.0% 7,692
Milwaukee 595,587 249,594 0.7% 1,723
Oshkosh 66,110 31,967 2.1% 687
Waukesha 70,741 37,967 0.4% 167

Because the sample sizes vary from year to year, smaller cities drop in and out of the data sets. Notably missing from the 2010 data are La Crosse which was at 2.1% and is now a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community, and Stevens Point, which led the state at 5.9% when Madison was at 4.2% in earlier data sets.  It would be interesting to see if those cities made similar gains.  The Bike Fed will continue to look at this new data over the next week or so and report again if we can dig out the other cities.

Bicycle commuting is on the rise in cities across Wisconsin and the country. Milwaukee made modest gains of 16% over last year, but is up 107% since the 2000 Census.  Madison has increased more than 188% since 2000.   As a reference point, the city with the highest percentage of bicycle commuters is Davis, CA at 22%. The Bike Fed will continue to look at this new data over the next week or so and report again if we can dig out the missing cities and come up with percentage increases for all places included in the 2010 ACS.

While this is good news, it is important to note a couple of things.  First, the survey only looks at means of transportation to work, which account for less than 20% of all trips taken in the US and they are among the most difficult to take by bike.  Many people who don’t bike to work do bike to the corner store, to the movies, to the cafe, etc.

Also important is the way the question is phrased.  It asks what the primary mode of transportation was for the previous week.  So weather can play a huge factor in changing results.  If a city experienced a particularly cold or rainy week, the data will be way down that year and may not reflect the overall mode share for the rest of the year.  The best way to monitor increases in cycling is to do actual counts.  Unfortunately few municipalities do bike counts and those that do, don’t always do them on the same days, times or in the same manner, which makes them difficult to compare.

The National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Project is an attempt to gather apples to apples data for bicycle and pedestrians.  Cities are being encouraged to follow their methodology and all do counts on the same days.  This will not tell the communities much the first year, but after that benchmark, it is easy to see trends.  The Bike Fed is considering trying to coordinate counts around Wisconsin for next spring as part of the national effort.

The Bike Fed’s regional ambassadors could help out, but it would still require volunteers in each community to count for two hours in the morning peak travel hours and two hours in the evening as well.  Let us know via the comment below if you would help do bike counts in your community next year.






About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

18 thoughts on “Bicycle Commuting up in Wisconsin Cities

  1. Dave,

    Good job getting the ACS numbers out so quickly. I would be interested in getting involved in a bike count. I would also suggest contacting the volunteer center of greater Milwaukee to help find volunteers.

  2. I am certain Stevens Point is up much more over the old 5.9% – I’d be willing to bet it is over 8 if not close to 10. Between the Green Circle, the flatness of the area, two amazing bicycle stores and now the new bicycle “signage” all over town we are seeing new and exciting bicycling issues such as lack of parking. I was at the grocery store last week and there were so many bikes that they were locked to the bike racks, the cart corals, the fence and the building itself.

    I’d be proud to help out with a bike counts next year in Stevens Point! Let me know how and when.

    • Gosh, that is great to here. I only see Stevens Point from the highway on my way up north to go deer hunting. I need to plan to stop for a day some time so a local can give me a tour of Wisconsin’s most bike crazy town. Thanks so much for offering to help do counts next spring. I will refer to these email addresses when we are planning it and contact you about it.

  3. FYI. Yesterday’s ACS release was the 1-year estimate, and it only includes municipalities with a population of 60,000 or more. Steven’s Point and La Crosse will be included in the 3-year estimate that is scheduled to be released in October. The 3-year release will include municipalities with population of 20,000 or more.

  4. That’s great! I wonder if you could combine some of the Milwaukee suburbs into the Milwaukee data, too.

    Knowing the ACS data as I do, and being a little bit of a wonk, I would be curious to see the “confidence intervals” that the Census usually releases with ACS data. Did you notice whether the bike commuting data had confidence intervals?

  5. Thanks, Dave. Despite the recent gains, Milwaukee’s count is still shockingly low. I live on the near south side of Milwaukee and also would be willing to help with a count next year.

    • Thanks, and I agree, Milwaukee is super low given all the great facilities it has. The bike lane maintenance has been really bad in recent years, but is getting better. I hope we can get back up over 1% soon. I’ll put you down to help with counts next spring.

  6. I would be willing to do some counting. I live in the northwest corner of Milwaukee, 92nd and Congress area. I can do some traveling, with sufficient advance notice.

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