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‘Bike to Work’ Statistics Show Santa Barbara County Commuters on a Roll

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By Ralph Fertig for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition |

More people are bike commuting.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, biking to work is steadily increasing in the United States, in California and in Santa Barbara County.

The “Bike to Work” graph shows how our county vastly outperforms both the United States and the California numbers for years between 2000 and 2011. Our bicycling increase for the county reflects growth from 4,822 to 7,859 bicyclists over those 12 years — that’s an increase of 63 percent, six times the 10 percent increase in the total number of county workers.

Bicycling mode share increased from 2000 to 2011, so what mode did people switch from when they chose to bicycle? It turns out that county commuters are driving 3.5 percent less. They are not only biking 1.3 percent more, they are also working at home 1.3 percent more and taking the bus 0.9 percent more. This welcome trend means less congestion, cleaner air, quieter communities and better health. Good for us bicyclists, and good for everybody.

Data from the Census Bureau consists of two types: the Census “Long Form” that was sent to one in six households each decade, and its annual American Community Survey (ACS) that queries one in 35 households. Both surveys ask the same question — “How did you usually get to work last week?” — to workers at least 16 years old.

The Long Form stopped with the year 2000, and was replaced shortly after with the ACS to give people frequently-updated data. However, because of the smaller sample size, the ACS data are less reliable for small sample sets, such as small cities.

For the ACS counts, the bureau releases data each year for cities with more than 65,000 residents. For smaller cities, it instead aggregates the data over five-year periods. So while we get annual data for Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, we have to wait for the aggregated versions for others.

The most recently released five-year numbers are shown in the “Bike to Work 2006-2010” graph below. As expected, bicycling to work is considerably more common in the South Coast than in the North County. The surprise may be that both Goleta and Carpinteria have a much higher bike commute share than Santa Barbara.

The Census Bureau continuously releases its ACS data, so the measure of what’s happening is always being updated. With bicycling increasing all over the United States, we look positively toward an increasingly bright future.

— Ralph Fertig is president emeritus of the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.

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» on 11.09.12 @ 05:14 PM

Interesting graphing considering the last time this was published it was discredited, and the author has previously made unsubstantiated and in fact discredited claims of bicycle use.

First, the issue of the form is easily impacted by those who would like to see bikes used more and perhaps use bikes for commuting maybe twice a month.  Under intense pressure the Census people were forced to admit there is no way a assuring the numbers are correct by hard count.

Second, Mr. Fertig, when president of the Bicycle Coalition, made vast claims of up to 6% of the commuting population in the City of Santa Barbara were biking.  That very year he sent an email to the inside group of the Bike Coalition Board, that was leaked, stating if the numbers did not increase you will be sitting in you car at a parking lot watching commuters.

Third, a quiet count on the streets of Santa Barbara and Goleta show on the primary routes in and out of both communities the numbers are closer to 2% (plus or minus 1/2%).  This gives the benefit of the doubt that at least half of the bikes are using alternative streets.  Meaning less than 2% of the commuting public are on State & De la Vina, Cabrillo, Hollister (both outer and Old Town), Calle Real. 

If you wash out the under 21 crowd of both high school and College aged students the numbers become even more questionable.

Former Mayor Blum, used similar justifications for narrowing streets and spending millions of tax dollars for the completion of the south coast bike route.  When the number of bikes did not increase she refused to comment and continued to make unsubstantiated claims at Mayor conferences and SBCAG.  Example: to support 8,000 daily commuting bikes in the City of SB and, to be fair, half of that number has to be subtracted for alternative routes, there are 3 major routes in and out that would have to carry in the 2 hour commute time approximately 560 bikes per hour.  Any casual observer knows that does not happen.

Another confounding factor of this survey is how many of these respondents were students at the time and have since moved out of the area?  That question was asked of the Census people and their answer was there is no way of determining that question.

When challenged the SBCAG Staff supported the study, BUT stated they had no way of analysis of the data based upon the above challenges of veracity.

Final note, the City of SB stopped bicycle counts a decade ago because the 30 history showed a long term decline of numbers below the baseline of 1974.  To achieve the numbers listed above the City of SB would have to have a minimum of 40% increase in bikes on the streets to break even of 1974 and then have a 400% increase in on street bike numbers for commuting.

Something the knowledgeable city staff is not willing to support. As my Statistics Professors would say garbage in garbage out.

» on 11.10.12 @ 04:19 PM

The numbers cited in the article can be verified by anybody at the US Census Bureau’s website at:

http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

To claim that some casual personal counts are more valid than massive data from the US government is totally unconvincing.

The Census question of how people get to work is not the same as how they get to school. Indeed, if only UCSB student bike commuters are added in, the numbers of all bike commuters in the county would more than double.

» on 11.10.12 @ 06:06 PM

“Really?”, you should go back and take your statistics class again. Sure, the Census isn’t a perfectly accurate source of data, but it’s got to be more accurate than a single count you mention plus a few speculative numbers you pull out of your hat. If it has biases, they will be the same every year, so if it says cycling has been increasing steadily in recent years, that means that cycling HAS been increasing steadily in recent years. Anybody who is out on the streets and not in some state of angry denial can see there are more and more cyclists riding around town and more bikes parked on the sidewalks. It’s happening in cities all over the country. I’m not sure why that bothers some folks.

» on 11.11.12 @ 01:11 PM

*Laughing very hard.”

Living in glass houses and building arguments on foundations of sand eventually get you in trouble.

1) The counts done by the bike coalition and the city of Santa Barbara for years were and are fatally flawed from the beginning.  It led to vast over estimations of bikes on the roads for the initial count and subsequent counts.

2) The counts done to verify bike coalition and city claims were done in exactly the same manner using the exact protocol they used. 

3) Projections based on current census claims do not match what is seen on the streets.  (after all trying to be fair and subtracting 50% of claims as using alternative routes is fair)

4) The increased use of bikes seen recently does not match the needed 40% just to bring back to 1974 levels.  This increase can be explained in large part by two items: (a) there is an increase in younger population, similar to what happened in the late 1970’s, and (b) the increased cost of gasoline.  Note the current population bubble is not and will not reach the late 1970’s bubble size.

5) Once the bubble ages, and go off to college or moves to retirement centers the numbers will drop once again.  Epidemiology uses the census type survey not for accurate counts but for trend analysis.

Just to further sooth critics regarding the Stats issue.  The above issue was reviewed by a pedagogy Ph.D. teaching at a major university and does research.  She confirmed the very questionable accuracy of this type of census question, commented in a peer session on activity and exercise at an international conference of sports and medicine.

So since identical protocols were followed to confirm or deny reported “official bike stats” and protocols have been and numbers have been reviewed by a Ph.D. who’s dissertation was on statistical analysis, what is the problem with my comments?

» on 11.11.12 @ 02:46 PM

There are a variety of ways to get information about bicycling activity.  Among them local counts, the Census, and in field and household surveys.

The National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project recommends essentially the same count methodology used by the Coalition and the City.  The methodology is in use throughout the country.  Mr. Fertig’s rigor in his leadership of the local count program is to be commended, rather than the subject of personal anonymous attack relying on third party anonymous evidence.  It could only be better if local agencies committed more rigorously to bicycle and pedestrian counting by standardizing them in vehicle counts or supporting additional data collection using automated counters year round. 

I myself agree that the Census data are valuable, and yet not perfect.  But their imperfections largely persist over time, just as they do for the other modes. And its among the best information we have to show big picture trends. 

For me, the larger problem is that the data do nothing to tell us about 1) the other types of trips that make up the lion’s share of our travel throughout any day, or 2) the mode choices of non-workers (among them our valued young, old, and students) who make up a large part of our population and place demands on our street network in order to access goods and services.  And so there is a big gap in knowledge, especially at the local level. 

If you would like to find other ways to be constructive on this conversation, now is the time to comment to the FHWA who is revising the National Household Transportation Survey as we speak.  Or better yet, encourage SBCAG to fund an add on to the survey so we can better understand Santa Barbara household travel choices in 2015.  (http://nhts.ornl.gov/index.shtml).

Dru van Hengel, PhD.

» on 11.12.12 @ 03:00 AM

Really?, please provide links to the detailed justifications for your claims.

I commute every single day to work on my bike, even in the rain.  I know lots of other people who commute every single day too.

» on 11.12.12 @ 11:23 AM

The bike statistics you are looking for, regarding the bike stats for the city of Santa Barbara are available if you wish to do research through many years of past editions of the SB News-Press. 

Alternatively you can request a Public Records Act from the City of Santa Barbara Public Works Department of the annual bicycle counts.  These counts were a collaboration of the Bicycle Coalition and the City of Santa Barbara Staff.

It is interesting the Ph.D. that was critical of my comments was the head of that project for years as a city of SB employee, in Transportation Division of the city.  She gave the last official bike count in 2003 before the City Council.  Her comments regarding that year and the dismal numbers was it was most likely the weather that year.  The official count for the City of SB was done in June. 

Regarding the international meetings I attend, most do not have a “web” posting of the individual sessions. 

A side note here, I love riding my bike, but because of business demands I cannot ride as you do.  On the average I ride 50 miles a week, and have been riding bikes in Santa Barbara for over 65 years (where did the time go???)

» on 11.12.12 @ 12:21 PM

Ralph Fertig is one of those rare pillars of the community who is dedicated to public service without personal promotion.

He is known for his care and dedication to getting facts right and is quick to chastise those on his side who are not so careful.

I have participated in the bike counts in past years and know how they are done. The claim that the numbers are fudged is an empty claim that reminds me of the “birther” claims.

But here is the most important point: Whether bike counts are up or are down, we should be making roads safer for all road users. If the roads were so dangerous for cyclists that no one was cycling, what would the resulting low count mean?

Making safe routes for cyclists and for pedestrians is a win-win for all citizens and for all road users.

» on 11.12.12 @ 12:39 PM

The more amazing psychoanalysis here is why does someone feel so threatened by bicyclists and bicycle commuting.

Nearly every additional bike commuter on the roads translates into another car off the same roads. What is not to like?

» on 11.12.12 @ 12:51 PM

Thanks, Really?.  I think the Census bureau is rather more methodical, and posts its results more openly, than the Santa Barbara News-Press.  Which is not to say the Census bureau is perfect, but they are on average much more reliable.  The Census bureau does make mistakes… in 2000 they mistakenly located a few thousand residents in the tract that includes the SB Airport, where nobody except some firefighters live.  But they do have a correction mechanism and they did fix that mistake after documentation was submitted.

Have you tried submitting corrections to the Census bureau, Really? ?

I’ve stood at intersections for hours and submitted tables of count numbers to the Bike Coalition, along a few intersections on State and also on Hollister.  It was fascinating… the great majority of cyclists (like more than 9/10) behave in a manner totally different than the local press would have you believe… they dismount and use the walk/don’t walk lights to walk themselves around the intersection, so as to avoid the fright of being in a crowded intersection street with cars.

And the number of cyclists in a 2-hour window near rush hour really surprised me… typically 100-200.  I often ride earlier than 7am too, and again, there are surprising number of cyclists who are commuting (usually to low-wage jobs) between 5am and 7am.

It does seem to me that a lot of people in low-wage jobs and people who are <25 years old do commute on bikes around here.  My own observation is that the rate has increased since 1990.  But as to the exact numbers, I couldn’t personally say.

I can say that Ralph Fertig is a wonderful person… careful, thoughtful, diligent, and no firebrand.  His behavior certainly encourages trust.

» on 11.12.12 @ 02:43 PM

Blogger “Really” keeps ranting without providing any hard data to refute Ralph Fertig’s analysis, which is based on Census data. Just because you keep repeating a “feeling” does not make it any more accurate, or credible.

» on 11.13.12 @ 03:24 PM

I appreciate this article by Ralph Fertig and his use of local and national US Census data to show how people commute to work.

Of course, bicycles are also used by tens of thousands in Santa Barbara County to commute to school, to do errands and for recreational purposes (none of which are currently counted by the US Census).

I commend southern Santa Barbara County (Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria and our unincorporated area) for their ongoing investment in much needed infrastructure to support bicycle use for commuting to work, and beyond.

Bicycles-use increases the health of the bicyclist, increases energy independence and reduces congestion and reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases.

I recently attended a talk by Rutgers Professor John Pucher

http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/BikeWalkPublicHealth_April 6.pdf

I was impressed by Professor Pucher’s emphasis on the health and fitness payoffs from the strategic investment in bicycle infrastructure in Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

The more people who bicycle, the calmer and safer our streets become for all users of all ages.

I look forward to the day when 20% or more of urban trips in Santa Barbara and the USA are done by bicycle as is the case in Holland and Denmark.

Each trip by foot, skateboard, kick-scooter, bicycle, bus, vanpool, carpool or train makes a world of difference.

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