Census releases commuting to work data for 2011: walking, biking, transit continue to rise


A higher percentage of Chicagoans are walking to work. Photo by Joseph Dennis. 

The Census Bureau has started releasing data from the 2011 American Community Survey. This survey is conducted annually and will collect every 5 years the same amount of data the decennial census collects every 10 years. So far, only 1-year estimate data is available. 1-year estimate data for a year should only be compared to any other year’s 1-year estimate data (3-year and 5-year estimates, with larger sample sizes, will be available by the end of the year). The table below shows commuting patterns for Chicago, from the S0801 table: Commuting characteristics by sex.

View this table in a High Chart from Derek Eder.

1-year estimates, ACS 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Notes
Workers 1,162,550 1,209,122 1,230,933 1,260,741 1,271,744 1,168,318 1,199,278 Major decline from 2009 to 2010.
Walking 5.5 5.4 5.4 5.8 5.9 6.5 6.3 Steady but slow increases.
Bicycling 0.7 0.9 1.1 1.0 1.1 1.3 1.4 Steady but slow increases.
Transit 25.3 25.4 26.7 26.7 26.5 26.5 27.6 Ups and downs.
Car, Drive Alone 53.4 52.6 51.2 50.5 50.8 50.2 49.9 Steady but slow decreases.
Carpool (2+ people) 10.7 10.7 10.4 10.3 9.9 9.4 9.0 Steady but slow decreases.
Taxi 1.6 1.5 1.4 1.4 1.5 1.5 1.5 Maintained.
Worked at home 2.9 3.6 3.7 4.2 4.2 4.7 4.3 Increases, then maintained.

I find it interesting that as “driving alone” decreased, the people who stopped driving alone didn’t necessarily switch to carpooling (where they could share the costs of driving), but switched to other modes of transportation.

It should be noted that the American Community Survey and the decennial census questionnaires ask the respondent to choose the longest distance mode they took to work, “typically”, for the week prior. This means that if you bike 1 mile to the train station and then take the train 10 miles to work, you should only select “transit”.

4 thoughts on “Census releases commuting to work data for 2011: walking, biking, transit continue to rise”

  1. The ACS data from 2006 through 2011 shows a doubling of the bicycle commuting rate in Chicago, or a increase of seven tenths of a one percent. That is quite impressive. With a pace of installing 25 miles of protected bike lanes and a large bicycle sharing system arriving within a year, I would expect that rate of increase to pick up for the 2013 survey.

    Compare those figures to New York City, which went from a bicycle commuting modal share of .6% in 2009, to .8% in the years 2010-2011, or a one third increase. This leveling off in 2011 could be at least partially due to a drop off from 58 miles of bicycle infrastructure installations in 2010 to 15.4 miles in 2011.

    NYC will install what is anticipated to be the largest bicycle sharing system in the U.S. early next year and that should have a significant effect on the rate of commuting by bike. Finding a place to put your own bike when you get there and theft are huge issues in the city and a bicycle sharing system will probably be a great boost to the cycling rate. There could be upwards of an average of 10 rentals a day per bike, which works out to up to 50,000 different people using the system a day. Compare that to the 22,391 cyclists that the ACS survey results give for commuting in the city.

    Los Angeles had a 1.0 percent bicycle modal share in 2009, then it dropped to .9 on the next years ACS and for 2011 it went back up to 1.0%. Did holding bi-annual CicLAvia events–starting in October of 2010–have a positive effect on increasing the commuting bicycle rate as I expected? Its hard to say exactly how much of an increase may have occured because of them,, but it certainly didn’t hurt it any. I would expect Los Angeles to get at least a ten percent increase in the bicycle commuting modal share for the 2012 ACS due to the 51 miles of unprotected bike lanes installed in fiscal year 2011. There is also a bicycle sharing system anticipated to start early next year from a company that has never created one before, so it remains to be seen how well that will work.

    1. I like comparing NYC to Chicago. That city has way more bicycle use, by all people for all purposes, than Chicago. Especially food delivery. I think NYC will have a higher count of non-work trips by bike than Chicago, and I wish our cities had a comparable counting method.

      Don’t give too much credence to a drop from 1.0% to 0.9% because the margin of error is ±0.2 percentage points. The most reliable numbers are from the 3-year and 5-year estimates, not these 1-year estimates.

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