Biking increases across D.C.

Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

More bicyclists are hitting D.C. streets than in past years, according to the city's latest biking census, but the rate of growth appears to be slowing.

The average peak-hour ridership jumped 9 percent from 86.8 bikers in 2011 to 94.8 in the May/June counts, and 175 percent from 2004, when the counts began, according to the District Department of Transportation. The District has been conducting such ridership counts every year at the same 19 locations.

The numbers have climbed each year, except for when they dropped 4 percent from 2006 to 2007. However, it appears the recent growth is slowing somewhat. Peak ridership showed double-digit growth each year between 2008 and 2011, including 21 percent between 2010 and 2011.

D.C. bike count
Average peak-hour ridership at 19 locations around the city:
2004: 34.5
2005: 38.2
2006: 41.2
2007: 39.6
2008: 52.9
2009: 65.6
2010: 71.9
2011: 86.8
2012: 94.8
Source: D.C. Department of Transportation

Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the reason for the increase is simple. "Infrastructure that makes biking more attractive leads to more growth," he said.

In the past eight years, the city has increased the miles of bike lanes from 12 to 57, including new protected lanes. But Farthing said the quality of the lanes, not just the number of miles, is the biggest catalyst for getting more bikers on the road. He attributes the bigger jump in 2011 to the addition of protected bike lanes on 15th Street in Northwest.

Biking has doubled and tripled on 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue since the city added what are known as cycle tracks there. Cycle tracks separate bikers from regular street traffic, said Mike Goodno, a bicycle program specialist with the city. And more cyclists used the 15th Street cycle track in the latest counts than exited off the Capital Crescent Trail, he said.

The city started Capital Bikeshare in September 2010, in the wake of the smaller-scale SmartBike DC, which has become a gateway for some people to try cycling without investing in their own set of wheels. But this year's count found that Capital Bikeshare represented only 1 percent to 12 percent of the bikes spotted at the 19 counting locations.

About 75.7 percent of riders used helmets in the 2012 count, a slip from the 78.5 percent who wore them before Capital Bikeshare launched in 2010.

Male riders also continue to outnumber female riders more than 3-to-1, according to the new data. However, woman are more likely to ride a Capital Bikeshare bike. A survey of Capital Bikeshare users released this summer showed that 45 percent of users were female, compared with the 23 percent spotted during the overall bike count.

Farthing said he would like to see the gender gap shrink, but he said it makes sense that more women are riding Capital Bikeshare as it functions more as an impromptu transit option. His group is planning to start an initiative early next year to help knock down the barriers to women biking by having mentors run group rides and share skills such as changing tires.

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