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Cycling and Walking on the Rise in US Cities but Need More Support

Alliance for Biking & Walking advocacy event

Biking is on the increase in North American cities although the numbers are still small. Using data from the USA's 52 largest municipalities, the Alliance for Biking & Walking, has found that 1.0% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle, and 10.4% are on foot (NHTS 2009) but these numbers are slightly higher in large cities (5.0% and 1.0%, respectively).

2.8% of commuters get to work by walking and 0.6% get to work by bicycle. They represent a continuing gradual increase in bicycling and walking in the U.S.

But data is scarce and inconsistent. The ABFW says that of the 52 most populous cities surveyed, nine have not completed counts of bicyclists and 15 have no data on the amount of walking. For states, 14 have no data on bicyclists and 16 none on pedestrians. Moreover, both conduct their counts at varying times and frequencies, making it difficult to compare results.

The 2014 benchmarking survey also finds that there are three ways use of counting trips: commuter counts, household surveys, and cordon counts, which tally the number of trips that cross a particular point.

Some cities have gone so far as to install automated counters, CCTV, and mount other types of "spot" counts.

The study ranks the 20 best cities in America for bicyclists:

  1. San Francisco (CA)
  2. Austin (TX)
  3. Long Beach (CA)
  4. Philadelphia (PA)
  5. Overview-of-U.S. transport -Mode-ShareMesa (AZ)
  6. Albuquerque (NM)
  7. Seattle (WA)
  8. Minneapolis (MN)
  9. Boston (MA)
  10. Washington D.C.
  11. Sacramento (CA)
  12. Fresno (CA)
  13. Tucson (AZ)
  14. Denver (CO)
  15. Portland (OR)
  16. San Jose (CA)
  17. Honolulu (HI)
  18. New York (NY)
  19. Chicago (IL)
  20. San Diego (CA)

Research shows that more people tend to bike or walk to work when a city has strong biking and walking advocacy.

Cycle lanes on the increase

There is a combined total of more than 8,600 miles of bicycle lanes in the USA's 52 largest cities. Combining the mileage of bicycle lanes, multi-use paths, and signed bicycle routes in these cities, this yields an average of 1.6 miles of bicycle infrastructure per square mile. This is an increase from 1.3 miles per square mile in 2010.
San Francisco is the city with by far the densest network of bicycle facilities, with 7.8 miles of lanes, paths, and routes per square mile.

Health benefits

The report reveals the health benefits of cycling. Reported incidents of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are all lower in cities with higher shares of commuters bicycling or walking to work, and more of the population is meeting the recommended amount of weekly physical activity.

Transport-related fatality rates are also generally lower in such cities, giving the lie to thoses who claim that support for bicyclists and pedestrians increases the danger level of travel.

Bicycle and pedestrian fatalities have increased slightly in recent years but the long-term trend is a clear decline. Since 1980, the national pedestrian fatality rate fell from 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 people to 1.4 fatalities per 100,000 people in 2011. The bicyclist fatality rate also decreased, from 0.4 fatalities per 100,000 people in 1980 to 0.2 fatalities per 100,000 people in 2011.

But some cities have much higher rates of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. Detroit and Jacksonville have pedestrian fatality rates over 4 per 100,000 people. These, plus Fort Worth, also have the highest bicyclist fatality rates of over three fatalities per 100,000 people.

Economic benefits

Economic impact studies of supporting walking and cycling have been conducted by 22 US states, 10 of the 52 most populous cities, and five midsized cities. Washington state and New York City have also studied the economic impact of car-free zones.

Studies in Portland, OR, San Francisco and in Manhattan's East Village, for example, have found that even though bicyclists and pedestrians spend less money per trip, they make more frequent visits to a business throughout a month and end up spending more on average than their car-driving counterparts.

There's evidence that places with higher walkability perform better commercially and have higher housing values and that bicycling to work significantly reduces absenteeism due to illness.

A mode shift towards nonmotorized traffic also has the potential to help reduce congestion and yield major savings in time, fuel, and money as well as providing cleaner air.

Legislation and funding

 US State policies on cycling

Since the last AFBW survey in 2010, 12 of the 52 most populous cities plus 11 states have declared new goals to increase bicycling and walking, or decrease bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. 90% of these cities and 88% of states now have at least one of these goals.

Nine large cities and one state (Georgia) have recently passed Complete Streets legislation or policies, bringing the current total with such policies to 54% of states and 52% of cities.

For the first time, over 2% of federal transportation funding went to bicycle and pedestrian projects, although this is still a disproportionately low level of dedicated funding. Bicycle and pedestrian projects are eligible for all Federal-aid Highway Program categories.

Disparity of Pedestrian and Bicycle  Mode Share, Fatalities, and FundingThe report highlights a disparity of funding for walking and bicycle mode share provision compared to the number of fatalities. Although there is great variation between states, they spend on average just 2.1% of their transporation budget, or $3.10 per person, on cycling and walking each year.

This despite the fact that 11.4% of all trips are by bike or on foot and 14.9% of roadway fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists.

The average large American city experienced a 5.9% increase in population from 2000 to 2010 without comparable increases in land mass, and budgets are tight across the board. Both of these factors point to a need to find cost-effective modes of transportation that move people without taking up more space. Supporting cycling and walking is the perfect solution.


Cycle training programs are on the increase too. The number of young people participating in bicycle education courses in the studied cities rose from approximately 35,000 in 2006 to over 183,000 in 2012. Over 168,000 young people also took part in pedestrian education courses in 2012.

The ABW survey is based on data collected in 2011/2012 at the latest, so it is not bang up to date but is nevertheless the most comprehensive picture we have on the state of walking and cycling in the USA to date.