From the Chicago Tribune:Â Gas prices continued to rise Monday, driven higher for nearly two weeks straight by the turmoil in Libya, with analysts expecting prices to keep climbing.
Active Transportation Alliance asks, “How can we make the gas price bubble permanent?” -Essentially the same topic I write about below.
I was thinking ever since I first read in the Chicago newspapers that gas will hit $4 per gallon this year (it already has in the City) that there’s a relationship between the price of gas and the number of people on bicycling or the number of trips people make on their bicycles.
As the price of gas rises, so does the number of people out bicycling on the streets. As the price of gas falls, bicycling declines as well.
Chart from GasBuddy.com showing average gas prices in Chicago for the past 3 years.
The data available to us doesn’t necessarily support this hypothesis, but the data available* is nearly worthless. Gas prices were over $4 per gallon in 2008. That was when Chicago started seeing tons of people on the street on their bicycles. The local Fox News affiliate interviewed Mike Amsden, a city planner at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), about the bike counts (first in five years) in a news segment about the influence of $4.65 and a “major peak, almost 350% in pedal pushers this year.”
Several newspapers published articles about the palpable increase in cycling, including a Time Out issue called “Bike Love” with messenger Jeff Perkins on the cover and interviewing 7 local cyclists inside. All of them published “how to get out and ride”-type articles. But despite the manyÂ new riders on the street in 2008, few came back the next year!
This graphic describes my point about gas prices up, bike trips up; gas prices down, bike trips down (but perhaps ending at a rate a little higher than where it started).
2009 came and the gas prices dropped – the modern heyday of Chicago cycling was gone. 2008 saw the highest numbers at 2 of 3 locations also counted in 2003, although the difference in study months makes the comparison suspect. I hope that 2011 is the start of annual and accurate counts of bicycling in Chicago.
But it’s reasonable to expect that some of the new people riding their bikes instead of taking expensive car trips will stick with it the following year, even as gas prices decline. Let’s keep these riders bicycling year after year, encouraging more to stay on the bike path than would normally otherwise with strategies like more urban-appropriate infrastructure (separated and protected bike lanes; secure bike parking at workplaces and train stations; traffic calming/slower traffic) as well as enforcement of laws that protect cyclists.
Let’s concentrate less on the “insane” Â numbers of people cycling on Milwaukee Avenue at Ohio Street (3,121 bikes on September 15, 2009) and more on how to raise the number of people cycling on our other streets. Milwaukee Avenue doesn’t need anymore attention (except for its intersections). Getting people off Milwaukee and safely and efficiently onto east-west and north-south routes should be the priority. -Photo shows Halsted/Grand/Milwaukee, just 300 feet southeast of the Ohio count location.
The American Community Survey (ACS) 3-year estimate for 2006-2008 tells us that 1.0% of working Chicagoans 16+ took their bikes to work (nevermind the tinny sample size that makes this data near worthless – it’s the only thing we have*). The 3-year estimate before (2005-2007) says 0.9% took their bikes to work. Not much of a peak or increase! For 2007-2009, the data shows 1.1% cycled to work.
Also ignore the fact that the ACS only asks about the mode you spent the most distance on. It does not collect data on multi-mode trips. So if you bike 3 miles to the train and the train is 30 miles to your destination, the ACS would only record “public transportation.”