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Rust Belt wheelers lead U.S. in bike commute growth

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/06/15 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

Cleveland’s strong showing as a city that wants to bike continues with its appearance in the Top Ten U.S. cities measuring growth rates of bike commuters.

The bikes are coming<br />The popularity of biking is surging in Greater Cleveland, and many cyclists are riding for real transportation, not just for recreation.

Clevelanders biking to work grew by an impressive 238.2% from 2000 to 2014, the U.S. Census reported in its 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) out this week.

The League of American Bicyclists has a great presentation of the ACS categories for biking.

The Fastest Growing bike commuting category was dominated by cold-weather Rust Belt cities—with Detroit (+403%), Pittsburgh (+361.3%), and Cincinnati (+350.1%) taking the top three, and #5 St. Louis (+269.9%) and #9 Milwaukee (+202.9%) rounding out the top ten.

Bike commuting in the north and Midwest has closed some of the distance, but still lags far behind leaders in the Top 20 Large Cities with Highest Share of Bicycle Commuters. The top biking city, Portland has shifted 7.2% of its population to bikes. Minneapolis holds its own at #2 with 4.6% of its population biking to work.

Pittsburgh appears at #11 with 2% of its population biking to work. Cincinnati’s surge has moved it ahead of Cleveland in mode share to #31.

Bike commuters in Cincy have reached 0.9% of the population—making it the bike capital of Ohio's big cities. Columbus barely trails with 0.8% with Cleveland coming in third for Ohio and 40th in the country with 0.7%.

Among smaller cities, the bike mode share champion is still Davis, California with 23.2% of the population biking. For comparison, Cleveland Heights has 1% of its population bike commuting (above the regional average).

In the 14-year period covered by the ACS, Cleveland adopted a Complete Streets law (2011) which ensured that street construction would give serious consideration to bike lanes. Its 2014 Bikeways Plan and the formation of bike advocacy group, BikeCleveland, has helped accelerate the pace of painting bike lanes. Also, the general acceptance of biking across the country, but also through lots of coaxing and example setting from Cleveland’s early adopters played a part.

"I think a major contributor to the growth of biking as a transportation mode is largely due to shifting attitudes around the urban environment," says BikeCleveland Communications Director, Rob Thompson. "As Cleveland works hard to reinvent itself in the post-industrial era and grows its downtown population, the practical benefits of bikes are beginning to be realized."

"Our work with the City to improve infrastructure and build awareness around cyclists rights is also a big help. We are witnessing a shift in demand for mode choice as Millennials become the most populous generation, and they are eschewing old, car-centric ideas in favor of a more affordable and sustainable solution to their transportation needs. We need to capitalize on this sea-change, lest we lose the momentum to other cities who are doing great things regarding biking, walking and transit."

What about setting a mode share goal, perhaps at the city, county and MPO, for biking in Greater Cleveland?

"I think we should aim to keep up with our peer cities in mode split," Thompson says. "Minneapolis (4.6%) is a great goal, but Pittsburgh (2%) or Philadelphia (1.9%) would be a realistic and attainable goal for the near future."

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