Active Trans: At Least 125,000 Bike Trips In Chicago Every Day

A bicyclist makes one of 125,000 trips in Chicago today. Photo: Mike Travis

A new study [PDF] commissioned by the Active Transportation Alliance put forth a “conservative” estimate that Chicagoans make nearly 125,000 bicycle trips each day for transportation, in addition to purely recreational trips. Almost 91,000, or 73 percent, of the trips are utilitarian – for shopping, errands, church, and doctor appointments.

bike trip income distribution
Chicagoans with lower incomes are more likely to bike to work.

Active Trans said in a press release that they believe this may underestimate the total number of trips. Their data shows small annual increases in commute-to-work trips, but didn’t gauge how utilitarian trips may have grown since the data collection period.

The study authors from Alta Planning + Design combined local and nationally-collected trip data, notably the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s household travel survey in 2008 and two sets of reports from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2006 to 2011.

Using these surveys allowed the authors to describe other characteristics about Chicago’s bicyclists. From the Census, they found that people who earn less than $24,999 each year are the most likely to commute by bike to work, while those making $100,000 to $124,999 are least likely. Oddly, though, those who make $150,000 or more are slightly more likely to make a bicycle trip.

The study estimated that “winter ridership volumes equal nearly 40 percent of average summer volumes,” a conclusion made from Chicago’s limited seasonal bike count data.

bike trip types
73 percent of daily trips by bicycle are for utility destinations.

Women make fewer bike trips than men, especially in the winter. 48 percent of Chicagoans are male, but men “are over-represented” among bicyclists. The month with the highest share of women bicycling, according to 2012 counts at six sites, was July with 32 percent, an increase over 23 percent in February.

The study examined changes in other cities, recently replicated here in Chicago, that suggest that the city could achieve its goal of having five percent of short trips on bikes. Chicago’s expanding bikeway network could spur more bike trips: The study points out that Portland’s bike counts expanded along with its growing bikeway network. Additionally, the introduction of Divvy bike-share will boost bicycling, just as it Capital Bikeshare’s introduction did in Washington, D.C. However, the study didn’t estimate the effect of either of these influences, and besides, the circumstances in each case are unique.

The report mentioned a third factor that could increase ridership – marketing bicycling as a “preferred transportation option for Chicagoans” – but did not elaborate on this, or provide a parallel case study elsewhere.

The study authors did the best they could with the available survey data, but a big issue about monitoring bicycle trips remains. Unless similar surveys and studies are done regularly, or unless the city expands its meager bike count program, Chicago will never be able to monitor the growth of bicycling locally — and thus the progress towards its five percent goal.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The top five of the 70 largest U.S. cities for bicycle commuting mode share in 2012 were Portland, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Minneapolis and Seattle. Mode shares range from 3.8% for San Francisco to 6% for Portland.

    In 2009, the League of American Bicyclists compiled a list of the miles of bike lanes and bike paths in 90 of the largest cities in the U.S.

    I looked up the square miles for several cities using the Census Bureau’s geography quick facts and calculated the miles of bike lanes/paths per square mile of land:

    Washington D.C.__1.64
    San Francisco____1.62


    Los Angeles______0.42
    Los Angeles______0.89

    Compare those figures to the highest bicycle commuting mode share city in the U.S. at 19%– Davis, California:


  • Yeah, we have over 4,000 miles of streets but only 207 (IIRC) bike lanes. And our bicycle mode share (for trips to work) is pretty abysmal.

    The report is pretty great, but I’m afraid it will stand alone. If it’s not followed up next year with a repeat study including the latest data, it won’t be meaningful and we won’t know of any significant change/progress.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Due to space limitations, the only streets that potentially could get bike lanes are the 1,000 miles of arterial/collector streets that Chicago has.

    It can take several years before a bicycle commuting mode share increase is likely to occur after bike lanes are installed. Switching to a bicycle as the main means of getting to work is not something that most bicycle riders will immediately do.

    Los Angeles installed about 19 miles of bike lanes in fiscal year 2010-11 and then 50 miles of bike lanes in fiscal year 2011-12. There was no bicycle commuting share increase for 2011 or 2012 beyond the 0.1% margin of error–in fact it was the same as the 2009 results when there were only 147 miles of bike lanes. LA upped the ante by installing 101 more miles of bike lanes in fiscal year 2012-13.

    Will that additional 170 miles of bike lanes installed from mid 2010 through mid 2013 produce an increase in the bicycle commuting mode share for LA in the 2013 ACS results? We’ll find out in about 3 months when the ACS survey results for commuting are released. If LA does have a increase in bicycle commuting mode share in the 2013 ACS results it will be almost entirely due to the additional miles of bike lanes.

    It took until 2010, after NYC aggressively installed bike lanes starting mid 2006, before that city had an increase in bicycle commuting mode share.

    With the large increase in the miles of bike lanes and bicycle sharing, I expect Chicago’s bicycle commuting mode share to make larger leaps per year in the next few years.

    As the mode share increases it becomes easier to make larger gains per year (up until when the arterial streets get few additional quality or quantity of bikeways) due to the larger volume of bicyclists. For instance, with a 1% commuting mode share it would take at least a 10% increase in the number of people using a bicycle as their main form of transportation to work to get a mode share shift of 0.1%–which is the minimum that shows up in ACS results. If the commuting mode share is 2%, then it would take a minimum of a 5% increase in bicycle commuters to get an additional 0.1% gain in mode share.


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