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City Beautiful 21 » Auto Traffic, Biking, Data, Public Transit, Walking » New American Community Survey Shows Bike Commuting Explosion in Carrboro

New American Community Survey Shows Bike Commuting Explosion in Carrboro

Bike Corral on Weaver St (photo courtesy Carrboro Bicycle Coalition)

Bike Corral on Weaver St (photo courtesy Carrboro Bicycle Coalition)

There’s big news for Carrboro in the latest American Community Survey Data – bike commuting has really taken off in town in the last five years.

The most detailed, statistically reliable information we have on how people commute to work is now part of the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS collects data every year, but has the greatest validity and reliability in its 5-Year Estimates.  In December 2015, the Census Bureau released the 5-Year Estimates for 2010-2014, allowing for the first time ever a comparison to the 2005-2009 5-Year Estimates.

Here’s what the data tells us:

  • Workers age 16 or older living in town increased from roughly 10,100 to 11,900 between the 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 periods.
  • Percentages for travel mode to work in 2010-2014 were mostly similar to 2005-2009, with bicycle travel being the big change:
    • Drive alone travel to work rose from 60.6% to 61.6%
    • Carpooling fell from 13.0% to 11.2%
    • Public Transportation fell from 14.1% to 12.5%
    • Walking fell from 3.0% to 2.8%
    • Bicycling increased from 2.9% to 5.2%
    • Working from Home increased from 4.9% to 5.4%

The increase in people riding bikes is notable because it is a 79% increase in cycling over just five years’ time!  This is a big deal. When one thinks about the cities around the US that have some of the best bike infrastructure, Portland has a bike commute share near 7% and Minneapolis is around 4%. While college towns tend to run higher than other types of cities, it is still encouraging to see how many more people have felt comfortable riding around town.

Why Did This Happen?

The Census data does not tell us any reasons why Carrboro residents are increasingly choosing to bike, but my theory is that after many years of adding bike lanes here and there, the road diet on West Main St that was completed in summer 2013 was a real game-changer because it linked FIVE different bike lanes that previously functioned as islands with a high Level of Traffic Stress section in the middle that was a big deterrent to biking. See the graphic below for details.

Pre-Road-Diet: West Main St Bike Network Gap

Pre-Road-Diet: West Main St Bike Network Gap

I saw a significant increase in my bicycle usage after this segment went into place, as I felt less at risk from cars in the road dieted version of West Main than the original configuration.

The bottom line: investing in bike infrastructure works. As the Town of Carrboro continues to expand the bicycle network, and solve pinch points and troubling sections where “Interested But Concerned” cyclists feel unsafe, we will continue to see these great results.

Since this data was gathered the Smith Level Rd project, with brand new bike lanes up to BPW Club Rd and Carrboro High School, has opened, and the climbing lane for bikes under NC 54 along Jones Ferry Rd will also be complete in 2016. This suggests we still have room to grow.  I think 8.5% bike commuters is  good target for the 2019 ACS.  Let’s see if we can beat it.

Do you have a different theory for why people are riding bikes more than ever in Carrboro? Please share it in the comments!

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One Response to "New American Community Survey Shows Bike Commuting Explosion in Carrboro"

  1. Michael Adamson says:

    This is very good news. I am one of those “interested but concerned” folks. For me, sharrows are not enough. The new protected lane on Jones Ferry is the most encouraging development for me.

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