Across The U.S., Bicycle Commuting Picks Up Speed Bicyclists account for a just a small percentage of commuters in the U.S., but their numbers have grown by nearly 60 percent over the past decade as cities have become more bike-friendly.

Across The U.S., Bicycle Commuting Picks Up Speed

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to end this week with National Bike to Work Day, that's tomorrow. America is not as bike friendly as, say, Holland or Denmark where roads sometimes look like bicycle highways as so many people pedal to and from work. But the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. has steadily grown over the last decade.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

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CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Sheridan Road is a busy street in Chicago and it's also the start of the Lakefront Bike Trail, on the north side. And that's where you can find plenty of bicyclists commuting to work early in the morning.

LOUISE GRAHAM: I'm one of those year round warriors.

(LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: Really?

GRAHAM: Yeah, unless the weather is really bad.

CORLEY: Louise Graham is among a steady stream of backpack-wearing bicyclists getting on the path. Graham works in sales downtown and travels about 20 miles to and from her job; the same for David Michaels, who works at a digital marketing firm, and rides four to five days a week.

DAVID MICHAELS: If I was on the train all day, it would be ugh, I'm on my phone whatever. But if I'm riding, I'm active. I'm riding down the Lakeshore Path which is gorgeous

CORLEY: And also a lot cheaper than driving, say most of the bikers. Brian McKenzie, a sociologist with the U.S. Census Bureau, says yes, most people still depend on their cars to get to their jobs. But the Bureau's first-ever survey of people biking or walking to work, called Modes Less Traveled, does show some change.

BRIAN MCKENZIE: And we see that biking has actually increased over the last decade by about 60 percent in terms of the number of people who bike to work, so just over three-quarters of a million people bike to work.

CORLEY: McKenzie says the bureau looked at the population of cities for its analysis.

MCKENZIE: And among small cities, Davis, California topped the list at about 19 percent.

CORLEY: Lots of bike community and infrastructure in that college town and the same for medium sized city, Boulder, Colorado, where about 11 percent of workers bike to their jobs

MCKENZIE: And then among larger cities, Portland, Oregon topped the list at about six percent.

CORLEY: Chicago's bicycle commuter rate more than doubled to about one and a half percent - credit lots of new bike lanes and a bike sharing program. McKenzie says in many Southern cities, though, ridership is low.

MCKENZIE: Weather might have something to with it, probably the fact that a good portion of Southern cities were built around the automobile.

CORLEY: The census also found workers with the highest rates of using bicycles to commute to their job, either have incomes of less than $10,000 or they hold graduate or professional degrees. And when it comes to gender, men are nearly three times more likely than women to use a bicycle to get back and forth to work.

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CORLEY: Back near Chicago's Lakefront Path, Rebecca Roberts, who rides eight and a half miles to her job, in a non-profit's finance department, says she sees plenty of women riding. However she understands some might worry about biking and how they dress for work.

REBECCA ROBERTS: I'm in my jeans today, but usually I ride in a skirt. And I just say, you know, I have a commuting bike. I can usually keep coffee on the front of it and I just feel like it's a better way to get there.

CORLEY: But there's another factor that might put the brakes on bike commuting. Brian Knowles a project manager who rides to work about four days a week, says its fear.

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BRIAN KNOWLES: The fear of traffic and motorists. But, you know, in Chicago I think it's really a pretty bicycle-friendly city. They've got great roads like this where they've got bike lanes, so just get out there and do it.

CORLEY: And with that, time to hop on my bike and get to work.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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