Rich? Poor? Two charts show both know good biking when they see it

January 23, 2014

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

When city, business and community leaders talk about the ways that better biking is good for the economy, it’s sometimes easy for people to assume that this is a secret code for “better biking is good for rich people.”

But most participants in an economy, after all, aren’t rich. A lot of us are poor. And new Census data confirms that good biking is especially good for poor people. 

Check out these two charts, based on 2006-2010 Census data released in October that gives us a more detailed demographic picture than we’ve ever had before about the people who use bikes to get to work.

The poorer you are, the more likely you are to use a bicycle for transportation.

Source: U.S. Census Transportation Planning Products.

If rich people used bikes to get to work exactly as much as poor people do, this chart would be cut into perfect quarters. And this pie is actually quite evenly sliced — maybe moreso than any other way people get to work.

But as you can see, bikes are disproportionately important tools for the lowest-income workers. The reasons are simple, and something any bike commuter would recognize: biking to work is cheap and, in a growing number of cities, convenient.

In states where rich people bike, poor people bike, too.

Source: U.S. Census Transportation Planning Products.

Thanks to its many bike-friendly cities, Oregon is an outlier, but the trend is clear: things that make bike commutes appeal to rich and middle-class workers also seem to make them appeal to poor workers.

The horizontal axis above shows the rate of bike commuting among workers who make more than $35,000 a year. The vertical axis shows the rate among workers who make less than $20,000.

The choices these two groups face are often different. Where a middle-class office worker might be choosing a bike commute instead of becoming a two-car household, a poor grocery worker might be choosing a bike commute instead of relying on bumming rides, walking — or not even applying for jobs that aren’t close to bus lines.

But as this chart shows, everyone in the economy faces choices. The work of cities is to help more people make the choices they and the people in their communities like. And when it comes to biking, there’s not a lot of disagreement among poor, rich or middle class about what people like.

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write

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