Who Cares How Many People Bike to Work?

In the past, I’ve spoken out against cities targeting bikers for special punitive taxes. But that doesn’t mean I think it makes sense for politicians to try to make people use bikes more often.

Consider this story from USA Today:

The number of people who commute to work by bicycle increased about 60% over the past decade, while the number of people walking to their jobs remained stable, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

During the years 2008-12, about 786,000 Americans commuted by bicycle, up from about 488,000 in 2000, the Census says. That jump is the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes tracked by the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey.

Bicyclists still account for fewer than 1% of all commuters. However, some large cities more than doubled their rate of bike commuters. Portland, Ore., had the highest bicycle commuting rate at 6.1%, up from 1.8% in 2000; Minneapolis saw its bicycle commuting rate jump from 1.9% to 4.1%.

Why is this news? What made a reporter think that we needed to know the trends and numbers for those who use a bike to get to work?

Newser.com reported on the story with an antagonistic headline: “Bicycle Commuting Stats Surge, Still Pretty Pathetic.” But if boasting in the surge of people using a bicycle to get to work is strange, so is condemning the number as too small. How is it “pathetic?”

The problem is that the raw number of cyclists remains really low, rising from 488,000 in 2000 to 786,000 in 2008-2012. Looking at numbers going back to 1980, Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate offers the following less optimistic headline: “Bicycle Commuting Rates Rocket From 0.5% to 0.6% in Only 32 Years.”

Mathis-Lilley also showed that far more people have stopped walking to work over the same period of time.

But, again, who cares? Why are we recording how many people biked to work and how many didn’t?

The answer has to be that our government and our ruling class have decided that driving a car is “bad” and bicycling is “good”. By taking the time to find out how many are going to work “the morally superior way,” they can reinforce the message.

Some of this is justified on the ground of the myth of global warming. But people should be expected and permitted to make their own decisions about how much time they spend going to and from work. It is no one else’s business whether the biking is preferable to driving.

But these kinds of stories hint at the day when there will be a national policy on how Americans are permitted to get to work. May that day never come!