There’s new data on who rides a bike or walks to work in DC, and it will likely guide future decisions on how to accommodate and encourage bicycle use.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The data comes from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)‘s just-released draft report of all the planned bike and pedestrian improvements coming to the region.

The most striking piece of information from the study is that people who either make a whole lot of money or not much at all are more both more likely to bike or to work than those whose income falls somewhere in the middle.

Rich and poor people are both biking more than average, but it’s probably for different reasons

Average incomes of bike commuters. Image from MWCOG.

MWCOG says its income-related findings are consistent with national data.

As the report also has data on what has (and hasn’t) changed about cyclist and pedestrian demographics in the DC region, it also tells us that the numbers of people biking or walking to work at the highest and lowest income levels has at least doubled since 2004 in most cases. Meanwhile, numbers have fallen in some of the middle brackets.

The report doesn’t speculate that much on why people specifically choose to ride or walk, but it does look at existing barriers, which allows us to do some back of the envelope analysis.

One big factor for most people is the distance they’d have to bike or walk to work. The large number of high-income riders could suggest that people are choosing to live closer to work, while those at the bottom of the spectrum may be biking because of the rising costs of transportation modes.

There’s a difference in how often people of different races ride bikes, too

Demographics of bike commuters in the DC region. Image from MWCOG.

In terms of race, the number of white bicycle riders or walkers has held steady while the number of Asian riders and walkers has grown and the number of black and hispanic riders and walkers has declined. This confirms that there’s a racial disparity in DC among bicycle riders.

The report doesn’t try to explain the cycling and walking rates among different races, or even say if race is a factor. Targeted studies in predominantly black and hispanic neighborhoods could give insight on how to get more people back on to bikes or choosing to walk to work. We know that adding bike infrastructure tends to increase overall usage for bike riding, so it’s possible that those neighborhoods simply need more bike lanes or protected bikeways.

Data like this can show us who needs help getting on bikes in the first place, as well as who would benefit from more infrastructure. The more we know, the more focused our future bicycle infrastructure projects will be.

Correction: The original version of this post described the MWCOG data as applying just to bicycling. In fact, the report combines bicycle and walking trips. We have corrected the article.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Burke.