The number of Americans who ride bicycles is growing, but the U.S. has a long way to go to match the two-wheel activity of other countries around the world.

Friday, May 19 is National Bike to Work Day, a day that celebrates cycling’s benefits by encouraging people to hop on their bikes for their daily commute.

Across the United States, about 1 percent of people either bike to work or take to two wheels for other everyday activities. In some cities, such as Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, about 5 percent of trips are by bicycle. But even that is low compared to cities like Copenhagen, Denmark, where 35 percent of residents commute, run errands, and make grocery store trips by bike.

Various factors influence people’s desire or ability to bike regularly, says Virginia Tech professor Ralph Buehler, who commutes via his e-bike from his home in Alexandria to his office at Virginia Tech’s Arlington campus.

“If you don’t have safe bikeway infrastructure, people don’t consider bicycling to be a viable mode,” says Buehler, who is co-editor of “Cycling for Sustainable Cities.”

Bikeway infrastructure includes everything from painted bike lanes to physically separate pathways for bikes and vehicles. Other factors that play into bike commuting are road safety, available places to park a bike, and expected work attire.

Still, the U.S. is making strides, particularly in university towns and in some larger cities where biking is more common. In Washington, D.C., over the past two decades, trips made by bikes increased from 1 percent to 5 percent.

Cycling and COVID

The pandemic was a boom for leisure biking in the United States, according to recently released research by Buehler. More cities added bike lanes on roadways, as people took to cycling for activity in the afternoons and weekends. However, daily commuting by bike declined during the pandemic, because many people worked from their homes, Buehler says.

Also during the pandemic, some local governments made changes in policies and infrastructure to support biking, such as the addition of more bike lanes, paths to separate bikes from automobiles, and banned vehicle access to some streets.

In most cases, cities kept the COVID bike lanes after the pandemic, but they didn’t stick with other pandemic roadway changes, says Buehler.

About Buehler

Buehler is a professor and chair of urban affairs and planning in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. Most of his research has an international comparative perspective, contrasting transport and land-use policies, transport systems, and travel behavior in Western Europe and North America. Buehler has led urban planning graduate student classes as they conducted research to improve bike routes in Falls Church, Virginia.

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