Biking to Work Is Growing Fastest Among Richer Americans

Like this guy.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Shutterstock.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report on America’s commuting patterns. One prominent finding of the report was that more young, urban adults are giving up on driving to work. This was particularly true in cities with strong public transportation networks, where automobile commuting declined by 6 percentage points among workers ages 25 to 29. Another interesting takeaway? Biking to work is slowly but steadily on the rise—especially among wealthier employees.

From 2006 to 2013, bicycle commuting among workers with no access to a vehicle more than doubled among those making $75,000 or more—the highest earnings category in the report—rising from 1.1 percent to 2.4 percent. For workers in the lowest earnings category ($0 to $24,999), bicycle commuting edged up from 3.1 percent in 2006 to 3.5 percent in 2013. And for middle earners (those making $25,000 to $74,999), the amount of biking workers increased from 1.9 percent in 2006 to 2.9 percent in 2013.*

Data from U.S. Census. Chart by Alison Griswold.

Of course, it’s important to distinguish between rate of growth in a commuting trend and the actual prevalence of that mode of commuting. As the charts above and below show, biking to work is most common among America’s lowest-earning workers:

U.S. Census Bureau

But if the changes of the last several years are any indication, that gap is narrowing. The increase in bicycle commuting was also notable among younger workers—registering a “substantional proportional increase” of 0.3 percent for workers between the ages of 25 and 34, according to the report. While the census doesn’t really speculate as to why this is, it makes sense that younger people are getting more into biking to work—especially since the population of well-educated young adults living in cities is growing. As for income categories, it seems likely that the jump in bicycle commuting among higher earners with no access to a vehicle could be at least partly explained by the rise of bike-share programs in cities nationwide. You’d expect that the people living in these cities—and joining the bike-shares—are typically earning more than residents of cheaper, less urban areas. Maybe they’re disproportionately contributing to America’s bike-to-workforce, too.

*Correction, Aug. 26, 2015: This post originally misstated the group of workers for which the Census report gave data on bicycle commuting by earnings category. It is for “workers with no access to a vehicle,” not all workers.