StreetLight Data Unveils Latest Pandemic Trends: America’s Top 100 Bicycling Cities

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New data examines 2021 bicycle ridership across the U.S.

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“In the fall of 2020, our data revealed a spike in U.S. bicycling, indicating an 11% year-over-year (YOY) increase by September,” said Martin Morzynski, SVP of Marketing at StreetLight Data. “But as the country got through another unique pandemic year, we wanted to examine if the trend continued.”

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of bicycles selling out in cities across the U.S. had the transportation community celebrating gains in bicycle ridership. Eighteen months into the pandemic, officials and others are eager to know if the trend continues. To shed light on this important transportation and lifestyle topic, StreetLight Data, Inc. (StreetLight), the leader in Big Data analytics for mobility, today unveiled a comprehensive report on bicycling trends in the top 100 U.S. CBSAs. Beyond new statistics, the report also zeros in on why key cities may be gaining and losing ridership and data they can use to pinpoint optimal bike infrastructure investment.

“In the fall of 2020, our data revealed a spike in U.S. bicycling, indicating an 11% year-over-year (YOY) increase by September,” said Martin Morzynski, SVP of Marketing at StreetLight Data. “This was consistent with media reports of booming bike sales and Americans taking to neighborhood streets via bicycle. But as the country got through another unique pandemic year, we wanted to examine if the trend continued.”

The new report finds that total U.S. bike activity in Summer 2021 was up 10% compared to pre-pandemic Summer 2019 — and was virtually flat versus Summer 2020. StreetLight’s analysts used StreetLight InSight®, the company’s self-serve transportation analytics platform, to measure July YOY ridership, which benefits from a “clean” seasonal comparison afforded by warm weather virtually everywhere in the U.S.

While maintaining strong overall ridership bodes well for America’s new two-wheel habit, a more granular analysis reveals new winners and losers among individual U.S. metros. Key patterns observed include increased cycling activity in Southwest metros in 2021 vs 2020 and decreased activity in West Coast and Midwest metros for the same time period. Further, the number of metros recording negative cycling growth vs. pre-pandemic increased from 10 to 19 by summer 2021, with many large cities in the red. In fact, large cities with good bike infrastructure have actually dragged down the national average, due to ranks of office commuters previously riding their bikes to work now telecommuting.

The Biggest Gains in Cycling Activity

The metro areas of Atlanta and Las Vegas showed modest gains during the summer of 2020, but they were both firmly up 25% by the summer of 2021, compared to pre-pandemic.

Four mid-sized metros — Birmingham, AL; Charleston, SC; Jackson, MS and Little Rock, AR — moved into the top 10 list for growth in ridership, reaching gains of 50% or more in Summer 2021 vs. Summer 2019. The Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN metro area offers an interesting case study of cycling improvements, jumping 65 spots (from 81 to 16) in StreetLight’s 100 list, and growing ridership by 45% since pre-pandemic.

The Top 10 Metros for Bicycling (Up 50% or vs. July 2019)
(Best listed first)

1. Columbia, SC
2. Tulsa, OK
3. Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC
4. Knoxville, TN
5. Birmingham-Hoover, AL
6. Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL
7. Charleston-North Charleston, SK
8. Jackson, MS
9. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR
10. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL

The Biggest Decrease in Cycling

A number of metro areas slipped into the red by summer 2021, suggesting a short-lived revival in bicycling for some. Sacramento, CA was up in July of 2020 nearly 20% versus pre-pandemic July 2019 — but by July of 2021 was down 10% versus pre-pandemic. Similarly, Fresno, CA, located just 170 miles south of Sacramento, was up 15% in 2020 but down some 5% by 2021. This behavior wasn’t limited to California’s sprawling Central Valley: The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT metro area and Denver’s metro exhibited the same behavior. Minneapolis, MN; Cleveland, and Akron, OH, as well as Rochester, NY, also saw their initial COVID cycling gains evaporate: All four metros were up about 25% in July 2020 but slightly below pre-pandemic by July 2021.

10 Worst Metros for Cycling (Down between 10% and 25% vs. July 2019)
(Worst listed first)

1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
2. Tucson, AZ
3. Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA
4. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH
5. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
6. Cleveland-Elyria, OH
7. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
8. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA
9. Akron, OH
10. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT

About StreetLight Data
StreetLight pioneered the use of Big Data analytics to help transportation professionals solve their biggest problems. Applying proprietary machine-learning algorithms to over four trillion spatial data points over time, StreetLight measures diverse travel patterns and makes them available on-demand via the world’s first SaaS platform for mobility, StreetLight InSight®. From identifying sources of congestion to optimizing new infrastructure to planning for autonomous vehicles, StreetLight powers more than 6,000 global projects every month. For more information, please visit: http://www.streetlightdata.com.

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