New study links community characteristics to bicycle ridership

By Bill Hollway

A new study published in the Journal of Transportation Geography further confirms the impacts of land use and the built environment on bicycle ridership and explores the elasticity of bicycle ridership in relation to some of these variables. Researchers analyzed household travel survey data in the Baltimore-Washington region of Maryland to identify land use, infrastructure, demographic, and other characteristics that impact bicycle use in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

One of the most interesting aspects of the study is its investigation of the elasticity of bicycle ridership in relation to certain variables. While the study’s discussion of ridership elasticity is limited, the researchers found that bicycle ridership was much more sensitive to changes in average household wealth and population density than to transit accessibility. In examining the travel survey data, a 5 percent increase in population density correlated with an approximately 4 percent increase in bike ridership, and a 5 percent increase in the number of households with income over $60,000 per year had a nearly opposite effect. However, increasing transit accessibility by 5 percent increased bike ridership by less than 1 percent.

Otherwise the study’s results echo many of the findings of previous research. Employment density, population density, and school enrollment were all positively correlated with higher bicycle ridership. In urban and suburban areas, the availability of retail and recreational destinations positively influenced bicycling rates. In rural and suburban areas, access to transit was associated with higher levels of bicycling. Unsurprisingly, they also found that areas with wider, busier, higher-speed roads tended to have less bicycling. Household vehicle ownership and income were also negatively correlated to bicycle ridership.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.