Compare U.S. Cities by Transit Usage

I’ve often been curious about transit levels in the United States, especially cycling. Commuting by bicycle has been dropping since 2014 in the U.S. There are lots of theories about why that is.

One question I’ve asked fellow cycling advocates in Carrboro: what is the highest level of cycling ridership we could possibly hope for in the next, say, 10 years? Assume we could implement our entire bike plan overnight. How would you even go about answering this question?

It’s hard for people to even venture a guess. Here’s how I would do it. Find the best currently available data on ridership in the U.S. and look for cities with the highest cycling numbers. Narrow that list to ones that have similar characteristics with an emphasis on qualities that affect ridership: number of workers, cycling infrastructure, climate (average number of rainy days, average temperature), “hilliness,” proximity to local areas of employment, college towns, average income – there are many factors. Use the cities at the top of this list as a guide – how much higher is the ridership there? How much of the difference can we attribute to each factor? Is it too hilly in your town to ever really get much cycling ridership?

I’ve created a site that lets you query on transit ridership on a variety of factors. For example, you can query for top cycling cities in the country or in a particular state (North Carolina, for example). It doesn’t just cover cycling, you can look at transit usage by bus, car, public transit, walking, or working from home. You can also compare all transit in up to 10 specific cities (the 10 largest U.S. cities for example).

I was surprised that there was not a convenient way to do this already, so I created my own. I realize data from the American Community Survey isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than anything else we have and it’s what the League of American Bicyclists uses to determine usage (in fact, it’s the only factor they use to determine actual “usage” on their application for Bike Friendly Community rankings.)

Some things I’d like to add:

  • A hilliness factor – how many hills does each town have?
  • Climate related number – average temp, rainfall, snow, etc.
  • Average commute times
  • Average incomes
  • Average age

If you’d like to contribute to the project in some way or have ideas on adding hilliness or climate numbers, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me on Twitter.

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