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Bike Ridership Booms in Some Unlikely Cities

A fitness tracking app reports dramatic increases in bike ridership since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
September 24, 2020, 10am PDT | Lee Flannery | @leecflannery
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Brett Holmes

Fitness tracking app Strava is recording year-over-year surges in bike ridership since COVID-19 lockdown with impressive accuracy.

The cities with the greatest reported increase in bike ridership aren't the cycle gear-clad cities typically making waves in the bike world. "Houston and Los Angeles, two sprawling metropolises where just .5% and 1% of the respective populations biked to work in pre-pandemic times, stand out. In Houston, the total volume of cycling trips in Houston was 138% higher in May 2020 than in May 2019. In Los Angeles, the jump was 93%," writes Laura Bliss.

Strava's 68 million global users are telling a digital, data-laden story of increased bike usage consistent with research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Even cycling experts and advocates confirm that "Strava numbers are consistent with data from local bike-counters and bike-share systems," Bliss reports. 

Bliss notes one city notably missing from the list of cities with ridership increases: Portland. Despite a reputation for bike-friendliness, Portland saw year-over-year declines in bike ridership. There is speculation that protests or the canceled Seattle-to-Portland bike ride could be the cause of the drop, according to Bliss. 

"Washington, D.C. also did not see the kind of surge that other cities did," says Bliss. Both Portland and Washington, D.C.'s drop could be explained by an already high level of bike commutes reduced by shelter-in-place mandates. 

For the cities that did see an increase in ridership, the question is now how to keep community members on bikes, says L.A. County Bicycle Coalition executive director  Eli Akira Kaufman.

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Published on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Bloomberg CityLab
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