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Cities with the most bike commuters
Americans are 165 times more likely to drive to work than to pedal, Census Bureau data shows. Just 1 in 40 people bike to work with any regularity. And that number has fallen steadily in the past decade.
Places like Davis, Calif., have long been cycling oases amid America’s daily motorized madness. As many as 1 in 5 workers once commuted by bike in Davis, where a major University of California campus sits in the fertile lowlands west of Sacramento. Census asks about pedaling to work, not class, but almost all the top 10 cities for bicycle commuting are classic college towns, including Corvallis, Ore. (Oregon State University); Boulder, Colo. (University of Colorado); and East Lansing, Mich. (Michigan State).
But as in much of the rest of the country, fewer people bike to work in Davis with each passing year. Soon after Kelsey Fortune moved to Davis from Wisconsin to begin her PhD in energy and transportation economics, bicycle commuting hit its recent peak of almost 22 percent in 2014. It dropped every year thereafter, falling below 15 percent in 2020.
Davis now risks losing its cycling-capital title to Key West, Fla., one of the few top cycling towns not best known for its colleges. Folks on the narrow island bike to work because everything’s close, gas is expensive and parking is scarce. The weather helps too.
“It’s not Duluth,” said Dane Iseman, longtime Key West resident and co-owner of Island Bicycles. “Unless there’s a hurricane whipping through here, unless there’s coconuts flying sideways around the island, you can ride pretty much anytime.”
Fortune is working to reverse Davis’s decline, both as a board member of Bike Davis and as a candidate for city council. But it’s an uphill climb. Aging bike infrastructure, parking, theft and safety concerns all play a role, but, like so many problems in modern-day California, it appears that bike commuting is at least partly a housing issue.
“Davis has built out rather than building up,” Fortune said. “Housing growth has not kept up with the growth of our community.”
Since the peak days of cycling in Davis, the price of a typical single-family home has risen from around $620,000 to more than $1 million, according to Zillow. As long-distance commuters poured into Davis fleeing even higher prices elsewhere, they pushed many locals out of the city core and beyond easy bike-commuting distance.
“There’s about 10,000 people (net) coming into town for work and then leaving every day,” Fortune said. “And unfortunately, these commutes are not by bike.”
If we make a heavyweight division for cities of at least 100,000 people, D.C. comes in second behind Portland, Ore., and just ahead of Madison, Wis., and San Francisco. The District was back in ninth place as recently as 2010, but bike commuting more than doubled from 2010 to 2017.
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