Despite (or perhaps due to) a sluggish economy and service cutbacks, Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) has seen a dramatic increase in bike rack usage in 2011 compared to 2010, according to a media release from MCTS this morning. In August 2011 alone, MCTS reached a monthly high with a total number of bikes on board of 13,920. The release also notes that actual numbers are approximately 15% higher than the counts.
If the trends continue, by the end of 2012, MCTS anticipates that bike boardings will be near 100,000, doubling the 2010 total of 47,995. As of September 30, the total bike rack usage for 2011 was 68,541, compared to 33,615 last year.
“Critics will be quick to point out that even 100,000 boardings is only half the original projection of 200,000 annual bicycle boardings,” said Kevin Hardman, Executive Director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. The Bike Fed led a campaign in 2008 and 2009 to build support for installing bike racks on the Milwaukee County Transit fleet of buses. “But those early projections did not factor in an economic recession of the magnitude we have been living with for the last few years.” Hardman added that the down economy has resulted in a slowdown in driving cars as well, even though traffic engineers predicted much larger annual increases.
If the projections of traffic engineers had proven true, we would be seeing more of a straight line graph instead of the dip in growth over the last few years. Most economists and transportation planners attribute the decrease to higher fuel prices and a recession.
“Perhaps the dramatic growth in bike boardings on Milwaukee County buses can be attributed to the increasing popularity of bicycling for transportation and service cuts, as well as the recession. Since bike racks do increase the service area of every bus stop, that should make it easier to use the bus even if the service on some routes has been cut back,” suggested Hardman. Bicycle use in Milwaukee is up more than 100% since 2007 according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
As a reference, there are about 12 transit services in Wisconsin that have bike racks on their buses. Oshkosh Transit Service installed bike racks on their fleet of buses around the same time Milwaukee did and they report a 70% increase in 2011 compared to 2010.