Bicycle ridership for commuting is one of the few metrics that we have to evaluate growth in cycling. It's not a perfect marker, and it doesn't include many bicycle riders, such as students, recreational riders, or even those riding to locations for errands other than work. It is however, a consistent marker across every US census tract, as it is part of the US Census American Community survey. Recently the last round of ACS data was released and analyzed by local epidemiologist Dr. Daniel Fishbein. Dan is a retired Captain from the US Centers for Disease control and is active both locally and in Burma in efforts to improve public health outcomes. Having his expertise in reviewing both crash and ridership data is an invaluable tool in helping SBBIKE effectively use data to shape our programs and advocacy for maximum benefit.
In this era of 'alternative facts' it's more important than ever to take real data seriously, even when it's not positive. SBBIKE has a tradition of publishing data even when it's not flattering. There is good news is that even though this new data doesn't show growth and that it projects statistical challenges to reach the city of SB's Bike Master Plan goals for 2020.
Back in 2009-2011, it was clear that there was an increase in cycling both locally and across the nation. What wasn't known, however, was if this was simply due to the recession or to the high gas prices, calling the growth into question. What holding steady at these higher ridership numbers do seem to mean, now that we are out of the recession and gas prices have returned to normal, is that the growth stage has staying power. Unfortunately, holding steady implies that we may have plateaued, but there are strong arguments that this won't always be the case. We have yet to build ANY of the improvements drafted in the City of SB bicycle master plan, nor have we launched any new bicycle offerings, such as a bike share program. As new improvements hit the ground, I strongly believe that we will see a second round of growth in cycling, and concurrently, an increase in per capita cycling safety. But that's just my perspective, and I'm thrilled to have the following analysis from which we can start to plan for the future:
Recently released data shows that there was little change in bicycle ridership or safety in the City of Santa Barbara in 2016 using the metrics established in Santa Barbara's Bicycle Master Plan.* Safety (defined as the number of collisions involving bicycles) improved slightly (falling to 88 collisions involving bicycles), but not enough to move the 10 year average which remains around 100 per year. Similarly, while ridership (defined as the proportion of employed people 16 years of age and older who bike to work) fell to 5.3% in 2015, but based on statistic variability it is only safe to conclude that between 2012 and 2015 there was no significant change in ridership and it remains betwen 5.5% and 6% . Of course, lack of change is not surprising given the delays in funding and therefore implementation of the Master Plan. However, given that the metrics established established in the Bicycle Master Plan are based on rollng averages, there is little likelihood that the 2020 targets will be met. -Dr. Dan Fishbein