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See what's behind our spike in bike commuting

Posted: 10:54 PM, Sep 17, 2015
Updated: 2015-09-18 02:54:46Z

CINCINNATI — Bike commuting makes up less than 1 percent of all trips to and from work in Cincinnati, but new census data show pedaling to work is really cranking up in the Queen City.

The U.S. Census Bureau released new data Thursday morning, as part of its annual American Community Survey , showing that commuting to and from work by bike is steadily growing across the country.

According to the ACS, 0.62 percent of commutes to work were made by bicycle in 2014, representing what the League of American Bicyclists called a “modest” increase of half a percent from 2013.

Cincinnati clocked in at 39th out of 70 of the country’s largest cities when it comes to the percentage of commuters pedaling to work, a substantial uptick from the Queen City’s rank of 46th just a year before, according to census data.

Cincinnati also clocked in ahead of the national bike commuting average in 2014, at .86 percent.

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Now, less than 1 percent might not seem like much. That’s because, in the larger scheme of workers’ daily commutes, it’s just not. The fact remains a marginal contingent — about as marginal as it can get — of Cincinnati’s workers go by bike.

Nevertheless, the census data do show growth, especially between 2013 and 2014. According to the ACS, bike commuting in Cincinnati increased by only .1 percent between 2010 and 2013, and actually decreased .2 percent between 2009 and 2010.

But from 2013 to 2014? The growth rate in bike commuting more than tripled that year, showing a .36 percent increase, and the further back in time you look, the more impressive the acceleration becomes.

Last year’s .86 percent share of commutes made by bike shows:

> 83.3 percent increase since 2012

> 143 percent increase since 2010

> 350 percent increase since 2000

Frank Henson, president of Queen City Bike and board member of the city's public bike share program, Red Bike, is encouraged by the numbers, which he said "shows that Cincinnati is making progress in its efforts to establish bicycle commuting as a viable transportation option."

As far as the sharp increase seen in a single year, Henson believes two chief factors were at play. Henson said it's no accident that bike commuting increased in the same year that Red Bike launched.

"(Red Bike) allows people an easy way to move around on a bike," he said. "It was a contributing factor."

Red Bike recently released some impressive numbers of its own: the bike share system nearly doubled the number of stations from 30 opened in Downtown, Uptown and Over-the-Rhine last September to 50 now stretching from Northside across the river to Northern Kentucky. Red Bike also counted more than 88,000 rides taken in its rookie year alone, with nearly 15,000 unique riders.

Another factor that made 2014 unique, Henson said, was the opening of the Central Parkway bikeway, connecting Northside to Downtown. 

"The [bikeway] contributed because, while there's always been (bike) traffic between Northside and Downtown, what the bikeway did was make people feel they have a safe way to go," Henson said.

But the controversy surrounding the Central Parkway bikeway might be the best example of the tension between a growing minority and the much larger majority. While some civic, business and government leaders have praised the bikeway as an asset to the city that should be expanded, an equal number criticize the project as confusing and dangerous, and support for expanding bike projects on city streets has been questionable as of late.

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Still, Henson said, Cincinnati's growing cycling community needs to keep riding this tailwind.

Two bike projects on Cincinnati's horizon — the Wasson Way and Ohio River mixed-use trail projects — have earned enthusiastic support from Mayor John Cranley , who was also responsible for pumping $1 million into funding Red Bike's launch last year.

Henson also pointed to the Cincinnati Connects Urban Trails Network — which, in addition to the Wasson Way and Ohio River Trails, also consists of the Mill Creek Greenway, Oasis River Trail and Little Duck Creek trail — as the path to increasing Cincinnati's bike commuter ranking.

 

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The city of Cincinnati is also nearly through the first phase of its 15-year Bicycle Transporation Plan , which recommends a network of striped bicycle lanes, shared lane markings and other on-street facilities, as well as designated shared-use paths, sidewalks designated for bicycle use, in addition to the already in-progress rail-to-trail corridors and connector paths.

Ultimately, Henson said, "We need to keep looking forward and keep asking the question, 'What's next?'"

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Follow Pat LaFleur on Twitter ( @pat_laFleur ) for all things bicycling and alternative transportation in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.