Tagridership

Introduction to DIY bike ridership research

A lot of people ask me how many people are out there bicycling.

“Not a lot”, I tell them.

And I explain why: the primary source of data is the American Community Survey, which is a questionnaire that asks people questions about how they got to work in a specific week. (More details on how it does this below.) We don’t have data, except in rare “Household Travel Surveys”, about trips by bike to school, shopping, and social activities.

It’s comparable across the country – you can get this data for any city.

Here’s how:

  1. Visit the “legacy” American FactFinder and select American Community Survey, operated by the United States Census Bureau.
  2. Select 2005-2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (or the latest 5-year estimate). This is the most accurate data.
  3. In the right-side menu that appears, click on “Enter a table number”.
  4. In the new window, input the table number ” S0801″ (“Commuting Characteristics by Sex”) and submit the form. The new window will close and the other window will go to that table.
  5. Now it’s time to select your geography. In the left-side menu, under “Change…” click on “geography (state, county, place…)”
  6. In the window to change your geography, select “Place” as your “Geographic Type”.
  7. Then select the state.
  8. Then select your city and click “Show Result”.
Notes:
  • This data shows all modes people take to work, who live in that city. It’s highly probable that people are leaving the city to their jobs on these modes. For example, someone who lives in Rogers Park may ride their bike to work in Evanston.
  • The URL is a permanent link to this dataset. Each city has a unique URL. You should save these as bookmarks so you can easily reference the data later.
  • The question on the survey doesn’t allow multiple choices: “People who used more than one means of transportation to get to work each day were asked to report the one used for the longest distance during the work trip”.

Why did women in Chicago stop bicycling to work? And other stories about data

Why did women in Chicago stop bicycling to work?
Or is our data unreliable?

Showing relative cycling-to-work rates between 2005 and 2009 in Chicago. Data from table S0801 in American Community Survey, 1-year estimates. Read the comments on this post for why this is not the best data source – 3-year estimate shows same decline in women cycling to work.

Note: The sample size is puny – data was collected from 80,613 housing units in Illinois. I don’t know how many of those were in Chicago (and we have 1,063,047 housing units). The American Community Survey only collects data on transportation modes to work for ages 16 and up.

But we simply have no other data! Maybe the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning can release the Chicago data they collected for the 2008 household travel survey to show us bicycling rates for all trip purposes (they divided the report into counties). The sample size would still be small, but we could compare the work rates to find some support between the datasets.

We should look into how New York City counts bicycling as an additional way to gauge trends in Chicago (it has limitations of geography and area).

They conduct two types of counts. The first is the screenline count for bridges, Staten Island Ferry, the Hudson River Greenway, and all Avenues at 50th Street. They do this three times per year. Then, seven more times a year, they count at the same places (except the Avenues) from April to October.

While this data does not give them information on who cycles in the boroughs, it does give them a good indicator of cycling levels in Manhattan. It also disregards trip purpose, counting everyone going to work, school, or for social activities.

Sidenote: The New York Police Department will begin making monthly statistical reports on bicycle crashes in the city.

Some disjointed thoughts about bike commuting rates and how we get them

  1. In November 2010, I wrote that Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have a higher percentage of workers (16 and older) commuting to work by bicycle.
  2. Yesterday, I updated an article about how the frequency of women in Chicago bicycling to work is decreasing.
  3. Today, I started updating the November Minnesota article to include the 2007-2009 3-year estimates from the American Community Survey (which shows that bicycling to work is growing faster in Minneapolis than Chicago). View the rudimentary spreadsheet. Bottom line: MPLS jumped from 3.55% bike mode share to 4.14% and Chicago only went from 1.04% to 1.13% (but again, only counting employed people!). Can we get some recession job statistics?
  4. Unemployment rate in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI MSA is 6.5%; Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI MSA is 9.0%. See the table on Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But now I must pause and look at what I’m analyzing.

Someone pointed out in the comments on Chicago bicycling (and working) women that the sample size is low and the margin of error high meaning it’s hard to make accurate interpretations of the change in ridership from year to year. He suggested increasing the sample size.

Add this to the fact that the Census Bureau only collects data on trips to WORK and not everywhere else that people go daily. In this recession, fewer people are working. In fact, perhaps women lost their jobs more frequently than men. That could perhaps explain the drop in women bicycling to work. To increase the number of women bicycling to work, perhaps we just need to find more jobs for women. See points 3 and 4 above for evidence on the number of people who bicycle for transportation that we’re not counting.

After thinking these things over, my point is that gauging a city’s ridership based on Census Bureau home to work data is insufficient.

If these Phoenix bike riders aren’t going to work, they aren’t being counted.

To move from a bicycle subculture to a bicycle culture, we’ll need to know when we get there. We need a better picture on who is riding and for what purpose. CMAP rarely performs their household transportation survey (which gathers data on all trips on all modes and in many counties) and when they do, they don’t single out cities. In essence, Chicago doesn’t know where or why people are riding their bicycles (except for the limited and noisy information the Census or American Community Survey provides) – we have no good data!

Both New York City, New York, and Portland, Oregon, methodically perform bicycle counts annually. Both cities also count ridership on their bridges: Portland has at least 5 to count, NYC has over 10 (also called a screenline count). They can report how many people are riding bikes on the street, blind to their trip purpose and destination. It’s easy to note changes in ridership when you count all trips over work trips.

How many people ride bikes in Minneapolis and St. Paul compared to Chicago?

I applied for a job on Tuesday in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (Twin Cities).

I had heard that more people, as a percentage of all commuters, commute by bike in Minneapolis and St. Paul than in Chicago and many other cities. If you’ve been reading Steven can plan for a while, you know that I visited Minneapolis in September 2009 and rented a bike for 24 hours.

I used the American FactFinder to get the details. And now I know what I heard is true.

Chicago Minneapolis St. Paul
Workers over 16 1,230,809 190,814 131,798
Ride bikes to work 12,755 6,770 1,567
Bike mode share 1.04% 3.55% 1.19%

Permalink to data results. Data from the 2006-2008 3-year American Community Survey estimates, table B08301.

Knowing these figures led me to question the nothing that Chicago is a bicycle-friendly city. If it’s so friendly to riding a bicycle, how come there aren’t more people riding their bikes to work?

One of my ideas: There are many trails criss-crossing Hennepin and Ramsey Counties that go to and through major neighborhoods and employment centers. These are essentially bike highways without the threat of a automobiles.

Why Amtrak’s not on time

“Over the last 12 months, Amtrak operations and equipment contributed between 11 and 18 percent of the total delay.  Likewise, “third party” causes of delay, such as inclement weather and police activity, contributed only between 6 and 8 percent of the total.  The delay that Amtrak ascribes to the “host” railroad, on the other hand, averaged 79 percent of total monthly delay.”*

Amtrak operates some commuter trains in California.

Breaking down delays attributable to the host railroads (across the national system):*

  • Freight train interference (25 percent)
  • Passenger train interference (this really means other Amtrak trains)
  • Commuter train interference
  • Slow orders not related to weather (“likely in response to track conditions”)
  • Signal delays

And the reason Amtrak can’t report: Continued underfunding at a time when ridership is increasing. Congress makes yearly allocations to Amtrak and without an expectation for stable long-term funding, the National Passenger Railroad Corporation can’t make long-term investment plans or seek alternate, additional funding (like bonds). Recently received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding gives Amtrak a necessary booster shot to clear out a backlog of maintenance. But this doesn’t solve the year-to-year fight for dollars.

An Amtrak train emerging from Chicago Union Station (CUS).

State of Illinois-supported routes (from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin) show a 20% increase since 2007. The Illinois Department of Transportation has spent millions of dollars in the past few years to upgrade track, crossings, and signals to improve travel times. You can see the effect on ridership when you improve service. I think this makes Illinois a strong contender for high-speed rail stimulus money not yet awarded.

*Delay information comes from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s 2009 Freight Snapshot draft report.

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