How Does Richmond Compare?

25 Nov
Sharrow (shared lane marking) on Harrison Street.

Sharrow (shared lane marking) on Harrison Street.  From Richmondgov.com.

The brief answer is, not as badly as you might think.

The League of American Bicyclists recently released a report based on 2012 data from the Annual American Community Survey (done by the Census Bureau, obviously a bit more frequently than the big census).

It comes as little surprise that Richmond does not appear on the list of top biking cities in terms of sheer numbers of people commuting, or among the 25 cities with the largest percentage of commutes done by bike.  Top honors in that category go to Davis, California with 19.1%, with Boulder, Colorado coming it at second with 12.1%, and Palo Alto, California at  9.5%.  In case that list of top contenders might leave the impression that you have to be in California or live in small, expensive city in the mountains to compete, it’s worth noting that the list also includes Madison, Wisconsin (6.3%) and Bloomington, Indiana (3.9%).

But get this: on the list of top 20 cities in the East on this same measure, Richmond comes it at #5 with 2.6% after Cambridge, Massachusetts; D.C.; New Haven, Connecticut; and Somerville, Massachusetts.  It also comes in third among cities with a population between 200 and 300 thousand, after Madison, Wisconsin and Boise, Idaho.

So what does this tell us?  Well, the glass-half-full reading would be that Richmond could fairly easily stand out on the East Coast given that we already do comparatively well with very little dedicated infrastructure (so far).  We already have a larger percentage of bike trips than a lot of other cities.  But then again, is it really grounds to feel smug if we compare ourselves to, say, Bridgeport, Connecticut (#20 on this list), with its whopping .08% bicycle mode share?

So the glass-half-empty reading is: it’s not that hard to stand out in the field, especially on the East Coast.  The U.S. has a handful of cities with a mode share above 5%, but not many.  Even Davis, far and a way the best biking city in the U.S. in terms of mode share, still doesn’t come close to many cities in other countries.  Compared to a few years ago, a lot of cities are doing very well, but there’s still a lot to do.

For the time being, what if we set the fairly modest goal of reaching 5% in Richmond by 2016?  That would be a better rate than the #2 eastern city D.C. is doing now (4.1%).  That would be another couple thousand people biking to get around Richmond — and at least a few hundred of those would probably be leaving their car at home.  That would be good for everybody.

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