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Statistics reveal how America bikes to work

May 18, 2014 at 3:21 PM EDT
In commemoration of Bike to Work Day, Hari Sreenivasan explores new statistics on bicycle commuters in the U.S. The Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans who bike to work is up 60 percent in the last decade. The numbers also show that it is the poorest and the richest; least educated and most educated are the most likely to ride to work.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s some new data out on how we get to work and what that may say about us.

This past Friday was bike to work day, but chances are you did not participate – only point six percent of Americans commute to work by bike.

I am occasionally, one of them. On some days I ride to work over the 59th Street Bridge.

The number of us that pedal to work is up 60% over the past decade. That’s according a new report from the Census Bureau. But it also finds something else interesting about those who have to ride to work, versus those of us who can choose to.

Turns out, the poorest and the richest; least educated and most educated are the most likely to ride to work. As the Washington Post put it, “alternatives to driving in the United States are both a luxury for the well-off and a last resort for the poor.”

Here in New York – where dramatically fewer people drive to work than in the rest of the country – I ride my bike as an alternative to the subway. In the past few years the city has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes and launched a new bike share program.

PAUL STEELY WHITE: We’ve seen double-digit growth in bicycling each year for the last several years in New York.

Paul Steely White is the executive director of transportation alternatives, a New York cycling and pedestrian advocacy organization. On bike-to-work day they handed out coffee and snacks to cyclists making the trip in.

White says the census data only tells part of the story.

PAUL STEELY WHITE: The Census only captures work trips. So it’s not counting errands, or recreation, or other kinds of bike trips. And it doesn’t count trips that people take to the train, or to the bus.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Every kind of person. On every kind of bike. Doing every sort of thing. Even a quick promo for the NewsHour.

One promise, I won’t be doing the show anytime soon in my bike clothes.