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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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