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Who Is Biking to Work in America? NOAA Is!

MAY 15, 2014 -- May is National Bike to Work Month. As usual, those of us at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been donning our two-wheelers and helmets to join in the fun that often starts this month but in Seattle can go year-round. In addition, this year the U.S. Census Bureau has released its first-ever report on biking and walking to work. It holds some interesting insights into the shifts occurring in how people get around town:

Although changes in rates of bicycle commuting vary across U.S. communities, many cities have experienced relatively large increases in bicycle commuting in recent years. The total number of bike commuters in the U.S. increased from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 during the period from 2008 to 2012, a larger percentage increase than that of any other commuting mode.

Take a look at the top 15 big cities for people biking to work:

Top 15 large cities with the highest percentage of people biking to work.
Top 15 large cities with the highest percentage of people biking to work.

As you can see, Seattle, Washington, is in the top five, and NOAA's Seattle contingent is doing its part to help get there. In 2012, NOAA had 132 people riding bikes in the Northwest Federal Bike-to-Work Challenge, landing us the prestigious "Pink Jersey" award—referring to Italy’s Giro d’Italia bike race in May where the leader wears a pink jersey—for our overall participation among federal agencies in the region. This year, about half-way into Bike Month, it looks like NOAA has roughly 139 people on 12 teams who have been biking to work already. We’ve logged more than 600 trips to and from work and ridden nearly 9,000 miles. That's a lot of miles not driven in cars, pounds of pollution not emitted, and gallons of petroleum not burned. Let's not forget the health benefits of integrating bicycling into an active lifestyle too. Many people who bike commute also enjoy being outside, hearing the birds, seeing the change of seasons, having more energy during the work day, and slowing down and unplugging after work.

A white bicycle with a helmet.
Biking to work starts with getting a bike. Credit: Ashley Braun

Ashley Braun, writer and editor for NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, bought her bicycle about two weeks into her first Bike to Work Month in 2011 (better late than never!). She was a little nervous but more excited. Growing up in the car-friendly suburbs of the Midwest didn’t prepare her for biking in a city like Seattle. Fortunately, she had a friend to help ease her into biking, showing how fun and easy it could be, along with introducing her to some simple biking protocols for staying safe. It also helped to live in Washington, which has been ranked the #1 most bike-friendly state seven years in a row. That first month of biking to NOAA back in 2011, Braun was hoping to commute once or even twice a week if possible, but this year, she's going for three, maybe even four times a week. While her commute isn't super short—nearly 8 miles each way—she's lucky enough to ride almost the entire way on the Burk-Gilman Trail, a dedicated bike path that "carries as many people during peak hours as a high-performing lane of a major freeway." It was not so long ago that Braun thought, "Biking around town? Me? I'll stick to the bus, thanks." Now, thanks to a lot of support, she knows it's not a huge deal. The more people there are biking, the safer it becomes for everyone on the road [PDF]. She knows she can ride her bike to work (and elsewhere) and even do it while wearing a dress and a smile. Do you bike to work? What do you enjoy about it? Would you bike to work if you could? Get even more data on biking to work from this video discussion between the U.S. Census Bureau and the League of American Bicyclists.

Six people wearing bike helmets standing next to bikes.
A NOAA Bike to Work Month team stopped for breakfast burritos and then rode in the rest of the way to work together on a brisk May morning in 2013.
Last updated Tuesday, February 20, 2024 3:55pm PST