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Not Just a Fad: Biking Activity Remains Strong Post-Pandemic

Nearly all of the 100 largest metros across the United States charted a growth in biking activity from 2019 to 2022, a new analysis of the transportation sector shows. Walking, meanwhile, has declined.

The strong growth in biking activity in Charlotte, N.C., can likely be traced to the development of new cycling infrastructure. But the growth also seems to be emblematic of broader national trends.

“We can just assume that the investments in active transportation between the city and the county have contributed to increased cycling,” said Erin O’Higgins, an engineer with Streetlight Data, a transportation analytics company. Streetlight Data recently released a new report detailing biking trends across the U.S.

Biking activity in Mecklenburg County, N.C., home to Charlotte, grew 56 percent between 2019 and 2022, according to the report Bike Boom or Bust? Metro and Statewide U.S. Bicycle Activity Trends.

In 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, biking activity across the nation seemed to spike as active recreation took the place of so many other pastimes that were sidelined by lockdowns and social restrictions. The growth in bike sales and biking activity left many transportation analysts and micromobility industry watchers wondering if the increase was just a blip or marked an actual change with lasting potential.

“Our data shows that overall growth … in annual average daily bicycle trips increased 37 percent between 2019 to 2022,” said Emily Adler, director of content at Streetlight Data, citing the national data. Adler and O’Higgins both participated in a Steetlight Data webinar Sept. 28 to discuss the report’s findings.

Not only did biking activity increase in the U.S. during the pandemic, but those trends have held. It’s not entirely clear if any single force is driving this trend. However, a review of the micromobility industry has shown a return to roughly the same number of trips as seen in 2019. Furthermore, a new report by the North American Bikeshare and Scootershare Association (NABSA) points to robust growth in the e-bike sector. Data shows e-bikes made up nearly 31 million trips in 2022, and the number of e-bikes available for rent increased 71 percent from the year before.

Biking growth seems to be strongest in large metros. Every metro with a population of 500,000 or more saw at least a 25 percent increase in average daily bicycle trips, with the biggest cities above 50 percent growth, Adler pointed out.

Portland, Ore. — a city whose very identity has been shaped by the bicycle — saw the biggest contraction in biking activity.

“In Portland what we could be seeing is some impact from the work-from-home trend, if there was a lot of pre-existing biking activity that was commute-based,” said Adler.

Even though the Portland metro has seen a decline in biking activity, the region still ranked eighth nationwide in 2022 when measuring average daily bike trips per capita, a drop from the third spot in 2019.

Whether or not Americans are actually shifting toward more active transportation modes is still an open question. Walking — which accounts for more trips than biking — declined 35 percent since 2019.

“When it comes to walking, the picture is far from rosy,” Adler remarked.

“Vehicle trips are still a bit lower than pre-pandemic, but only by about a hair,” she added. “Meanwhile, that decrease in walking trips has really hurt active transportation.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.