Gas-fueled transportation is responsible for the greatest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States—29%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Over three decades, from 1999 to 2019, greenhouse gases from the transportation sector experienced an increase not seen in any other sector. This is dangerous, as greenhouse gas emissions warm the atmosphere and accelerate climate change—but it’s also preventable through choices like bike commuting.
One of the main needs for transportation—as workers slowly begin returning to offices—is commuting to work. While people across the United States commute in different ways, the most common is driving, which means a release of greenhouse gas emissions day in and day out. But is driving the only option?
Bike Adviser recently published a report on The State of Bike Commuting in the US, revealing statistics on the increase in bike commuting.
Who Bikes to Work and Where?
In less than two decades, from 2000 to 2019, the US saw a 61% increase in the number of commuters who bike to work—488,000 people at the start of the century up to 786,000 people in 2019. There are numerous reasons for this, from exercise to saving money and, of course, choosing a greener way of life.
Some locations boast more bike commuters than others—Oregon, Montana, Colorado, and Wyoming lead the pack with over 1% of their population biking to work.
In most states, a majority of bike commuters—71%—are men. Women account for the remaining 29% of bike commuters.
This gender gap, however, is changing. Since 2010, women bike commuters have increased by 11% and a whopping 58.8% since 2006. Some states also attract a majority of women bikers, including Alabama (53%), Maine (52%), and New Mexico (51%).
Benefits of Biking
As mentioned previously, the benefits of biking are numerous.
One of the more immediate is that biking is more cost-effective than driving a car or using public transportation. The costs don’t rack up—and aren’t nearly as expensive—as maintaining a car or consistently paying for public transport.
Bikes are also friendlier to the planet. On a bike, there are no gas emissions or contributions to pollution.
The health benefits of cycling are well-documented. It’s associated with lowering one's risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. What about the pollution in the air from non-bikes, though? According to a 2016 study in Preventive Medicine, “benefits of active travel outweighed the harm caused by air pollution in all but the most extreme air pollution concentrations.”
Encouraging biking is also proven to benefit small businesses. In the League of American Bicyclists’ report, Bicycling Means Business, findings confirmed businesses benefit from investments made towards safer streets and cyclists.
“People who had biked and walked to the area reported that they spent more money in the area per month than those who drove there,” the report states.
In Memphis, one business owner noticed bike lanes slowed down traffic and allowed people to notice and acknowledge local businesses more.
How to Make Cities and Businesses Friendly to Bike Commuting
Unfortunately, even beyond pollution in the air, there are other dangers to biking, especially in cities with heavy traffic. A lack of prominent and safe bike lanes, sidewalks, or other pedestrian options make accidents more likely.
Many of the cities that rank high for bike commuting earned their spots in Bike Adviser’s report because they are prioritizing cycling infrastructure.
“For over three decades, Oregon’s ‘Bike Bill,’ has ensured that bicycle facilities are constructed as part of most roadway projects,” commented the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“Metro areas like Portland have taken this a step further by designing their bike routes to be accessible and comfortable for all users, which dramatically increases the number of commuters who use them.”
States that prioritize infrastructure favoring alternative transportation options can, at the same time, decrease their carbon footprint.
Oregon’s Department of Transportation continued: “Our emissions reduction roadmap—the Statewide Transportation Strategy—calls for 40% of short-distance trips to shift from ‘drive alone’ to ‘walking or biking’ by 2050. It’s an aggressive goal, and we’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go.”
According to the CDC, however, it is not only governments who can help encourage more and safer biking, but employers as well.
One way is getting involved in local initiatives aimed at improving active transportation, including supporting efforts, policies, and legislation which will design safer public streets and sidewalks.
Employers can also offer incentives to their employees for choosing active transportation. All qualifying Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees, for example, can enroll in the Bike2Work program. Under this program, employees receive $20 monthly for expenses incurred while commuting to work via bike.
If riding a bike to work is not feasible, there are still other options that are kinder to the planet, such as electric cars, using low-carbon fuel, and shared commuting like carpool or public transportation. Employers can offer extra incentives and benefits for these choices as well.