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If Your Co-Workers Look Sweaty, It's Because Bike Commuting's On the Rise

Bike commuters in Portland, Oregon

Photograph by Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

Bike commuters in Portland, Oregon

Most Americans still drive to work, but biking is growing faster than other modes of commuting. The number of commuters on two wheels grew about 60 percent, from roughly 488,000 in 2000 to 786,000 about a decade later, according to a Census Bureau report (PDF) published today. Men biked to work at twice the rate that women did.

The increase comes as cities add bike-share programs and lanes to encourage cyclists. Portland, Ore., which boasts 319 miles of bikeways, has the largest share of bike commuters among big cities, about 6 percent. (Insert Portlandia joke here.) Madison, Wis., (5 percent) and Minneapolis (4 percent) are right behind. In some smaller cities, bike commuting is even more common: One in 10 Boulderites ride to  work in Colorado, and the number approaches 20 percent in Davis, Calif. The trend is good news for the bike industry and the people who make this suit.

The Census Bureau asked people to report how they got to work in the last week, and to mark the method of transportion they used to cover the most distance. So someone who biked a mile to the station and took the train 10 miles to work should have been recorded as a rail commuter. Researchers compared responses from the 2000 decennial census to detailed surveys taken over five years, from 2008 to 2012, which yield more precise data by reaching more people.

Commuting by foot hasn’t grown as much nationwide. The number of people walking to work declined over the last generation, as Americans pushed further out into the exurbs, though walking has increased meaningfully in a few cities since 2000: Chicago, San Jose, and Seattle all gained walking commuters, according to the census. So did Boston, where about one in seven walks to work, by far the largest share among big cities. Across the river in Cambridge, Mass., one in four people commute by foot, and in Ithaca, N.Y., it’s 42 percent.

Tozzi is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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