Bicycle commuting jumps 58 percent in Tucson

September 24, 2011

The U.S. Census Bureau released data from their annual American Communities Survey (ACS) for the year 2010 and the statistics show that the number of bicyclists commuting to work in Tucson increased 58 percent between 2009 and 2010.

The jump is especially noteworthy given that ridership had stagnated from 2000 to 2009.  In 2000, Tucson was No. 1 in the nation for major cities for bike commuting at 2.2% of overall commuters, ahead of other bicycle friendly communities such as Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

By 2009, that number decreased to 1.9 percent, while Portland increased its ridership to 5.8 percent and garnered a ‘Platinum’ rating from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Tucson dropped to 12th in the nation during the same period.

With the release of the 2010 figures, Tucson has moved up to No. 6 in the nation for bicycle commuting.

“I am very pleased to see the large increase in cycling commuting in Tucson,” said Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup. “Our community has invested significant resources in recent years to help make sure that everyone can feel safe and get where they need to go by bike.  It’s great to see more and more Tucsonans embrace cycling as part of their daily lives.  And I expect that this increase in bike commuting will have a positive impact on our goal to achieve a Platinum rating by the League of American Bicyclists.”

With over 700 miles of bicycle lanes in the region, Tucson has been named the “Best Town for Road Biking” by Outdoor Magazine in October 2010, in part because Tucson is home to events such as El Tour de Tucson. City and Regional transportation planners have made bicycling more accessible to the general public for everyday trips by promoting and building low-stress bikeways away from traffic and by holding events such as Cyclovia that energize the community.

“Cyclovia was a game changer for Tucson,” said Tom Thivener, the City of Tucson’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Manager. “All of a sudden folks are getting their bicycles out of the garage and dusting them off for the event. Cyclovia allows Tucsonans to get the feel of how fun it is to ride a bike again and after the event is over many folks ride the rest of the year.”

This month, Outdoor Magazine enhanced their description of Tucson, calling it one of the best towns to move to, in part because of the City’s effort to plan and develop a network of low-stress Bicycle Boulevards on residential streets.  On the Bicycle Boulevards, when residential streets cross busy arterial roadways, the City has been installing bicycle/pedestrian signals to allow bicyclists to cross arterial streets in a safer manner.

 “In the last couple of years, the City has installed 20 new bicycle and pedestrian signals thanks to funding from the Regional Transportation Authority,” said Jim Glock, the City’s Transportation Director.  “These signals help to connect neighborhoods to one another and give bicycle commuters more options than just biking on the busy roads.”

Another interesting trend in the 2010 data was the increase in women bicycling in Tucson.  Researchers from Portland State University say that women are the “indicator species” when it comes to judging how friendly a facility or community is.

Previously, Tucson mirrored national trends with only 1 in 4 bicyclists being female (26.5% of bicyclists).  The 2010 data indicates a big shift with more than 1 in 3 bicyclists being female (35% of bicyclists).

“Besides Cyclovia being a big draw to families, the City and County offer free Traffic Skills bike classes to ladies so that they can be more confident out on the road,” Thivener said.

Other successful programs that empower women to ride in Tucson include BICAS, which has workshop hours just for women so that they can work on their bicycles, and Living Streets Alliance, an advocacy organization that does group rides highlighting some of the lower stress facilities in Tucson.