Squirreled away in the new census data is this: the Northwest has more bicycle commuters than farmers. Way more.

Check it out:

cyclists vs farmers

The chart shows the number of people whose primary occupation is farmer compared with the number of people whose primary mode of commuting is by bicycle.

Needless to say, this snapshot doesn’t include the heap of people who work in the agriculture industry more generally but who aren’t actually farmers. (And it doesn’t count farm laborers, in particular.) There are not nearly as many folks who work in the bicycle industry.

Yet I think there’s some symbolic value to my little comparison. For whatever reason, farmers occupy a quasi-mythic space in our consciousness in a way that cyclists obviously don’t. And I wonder if a clearer understanding of how widespread and popular bicycling is might help change the persistently anti-bicycling policies that plague communities across the Northwest and across North America.   

  • Some additional context. If we were to add in all the folks who farm as a secondary occupation the number of farmers would more than double. On the other hand, we don’t have comparable data for commuters whose secondary mode of commuting includes a bicyle. But it’s fair to believe that the number of occasional bike commuters is probably much, much higher—well over double, I’d be willing to bet. There are an awful lot of fair-weather cyclists out there (like me) or cyclists who ride only once or twice a week or only ride during the summer.

    Interestingly, across the United States, the nation’s 2.2 million farmers far outnumber the roughly 685,000 bicycle commuters. But, on the other hand, according to at least one reasonably credible estimate for 2002, some 57 million American adults are at least occasional bicycle riders. If we assume that the same relationship holds for the Northwest—the ratio between bike commuters and total cyclists—then there are roughly 5.3 million cyclists in the Northwest states. And that doesn’t even count all the kids!

    Sources and notes: All commuting data come from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2008, single year estimates, Table S0801, “Commuting Characteristics by Sex.” I calculated the number of bicycle commuters by multiplying the total number of commuters covered by the survey by the percentage of commuters whose means of transportation to work is bicycle. This figure excludes bicycle commuters whose primary mode of commuting is some other mode (e.g. someone who rides a bike a short distance to a bus stop) and people who commute by bicycle sometimes but commute by some other mode on a greater number of days each week. More information on the census techniques is available here, especially on page 67. All data about farmers comes from the US Department of Agriculture’s 2007 Census for Agriculture, the most recent data available. For each state I used the state profiles and took the count listed for “principle operators by primary occupation.” National figures are here.