The first time I celebrated Bike to Work Day, I didn’t have a job (I was a recent college graduate in search of one) so I experienced the event as more of a Bike-to-Free-Food-Booths Day. Luckily, the sponsors only asked for proof of biking, not working, and since my ancient 10-speed was my main form of transportation at the time, I fit right in.

That was in 1988. Since that time, I’ve gained jobs and various commute modes (including hitch-hiking by pickup truck), but biking remains my favorite. I feel lucky that my home, Seattle, has bike racks, bike lanes (the Sammamish trail is a recent victory), and bike advocacy groups. And hey, I’ve only been doored once.

It’s discouraging to note, though, that bike commuting is only slowly catching on in the US, despite that it’s healthy, cheap, and the most energy-efficient form of travel. According to the 2000 Census, while the number of bike commuters increased slightly from 1990, the percentage was still very low—0.4 percent of all commute trips.

  • Seattle and Portland do rate third and fifth of US cities in their population category, respectively, in percentage of workers who commute by bike. But I have to say I expected Portland-where the Hawthorne Bridge swarms with two-wheeled businesspeople on weekday mornings, I’m told—to beat Seattle; anyone have different or more recent numbers?

    According to this VTPI report (pdf, p.21), Canadians pedal to work at a higher rate than Americans (1.2 percent of work trips were by bike in 2001), particularly British Columbians. Victoria ranked highest of any Canadian metropolitan area—4.8 percent in 2001—for share of work trips by bike.

    And then there are countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, where “bike modal shares of travel” average 20-30 percent.

    How to encourage more folks to hop on their two-wheelers for the short, everyday trips that they don’t really need a car for? Compact urban design obviously plays a big role. Gas price hikes probably aren’t hurting.

    Bike paths and lanes are also often promoted as a way to get people to pedal more. I’m also intrigued by the “shared streets” model of integrating transportation modes rather than separating them-which would turn streets into public spaces where children, pedestrians, cyclists, and streetcars mix with slow-moving cars.

    With destinations closer together and bikes on equal footing with cars, we wouldn’t need a Bike to Work Day—or free goodies—to help us choose two wheels over four.