American Community Survey
The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey facilitated by the U.S. Census Bureau, which gathers social, economic, housing, and demographic data of U.S. households, including commuter modes of transportation. The ACS differs from the Census in that ACS data are collected annually, throughout the year. The Census, on the other hand, is conducted only once per decade on one day in April.
Biking and walking commute ACS data presented in the Benchmarking Report is based on one question included in the ACS that asks: “How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK? If this person usually used more than one method of transportation during the trip, mark (X) the box of the one used for most of the distance.” Respondents can indicate “bicycle” or “walked.” 1
There are several reasons to be hesitant to only rely on ACS data to understand the prevalence of biking and walking in any community, including:
- The time of year travel data are collected likely influences reported biking and walking trips;
- The survey only addresses commuter trips, which significantly limits generalizations regarding biking and walking trips for other purposes; and
- Respondents are asked to report only the primary mode of transportation, omitting more detailed information regarding multimodal trips, such as walking to a bus stop.
Communities and states could consider supplementing ACS data with other forms of data collection to better understand issues such as seasonal variation in biking and walking, non-commute trips, and multimodal trips.
Approximately 3.5 million households participate in the ACS survey every year. Data are released annually as 1-year and 5-year rolling estimates and are available online at http://www.census.gov/acs and http://factfinder.census.gov.
Past Benchmarking Reports used 3-year estimates to balance precision and currency of data. 2 In 2015, the 3-year estimate program was eliminated due to funding constraints. 3
National Household Travel Survey
The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) is a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation every five to seven years. The survey collects data on transportation patterns in the United States including trip mode, purpose, distance and duration for a given 24-hour period. The survey is conducted by telephone and in 2009 approximately 150,000 landlines were randomly selected to participate. States and MPOs have the option to purchase an add-on of additional household travel samples. In 2009, fourteen states purchased increased sample sizes, increasing their samples by between 1,200 and 20,000 depending on the state. The larger samples are useful in providing a more accurate description of travel behavior for specific geographic areas and assists in more detailed local planning and transportation forecasting efforts.
Data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are available online at http://nhts.ornl.gov.
National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Project
The National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project (NBPD) is a joint effort by Alta Planning + Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). The project aims to establish a consistent methodology for conducting bicycle and pedestrian counts and to establish a national database for these data to better estimate existing and future bicycle and pedestrian demand. Any community using Eco-Counter technology can submit their data to the project for a free summary report. For guidelines on conducting counts and submitting data to the project, visit http://bikepeddocumentation.org.
Walk Score, Bike Score, & Transit Score
Walk Score was created to promote walkable neighborhoods and has since expanded to creating scores for biking and taking transit. Recently acquired by real estate website, Redfin, Walk Score aims to have a score included with every real estate listing to help potential buyers evaluate walkability and transportation options in locations where they might want to live. Though scoring varies by the mode, scores can be described everything from as a walker/ rider/ biker’s paradise to somewhat walkable/ some transit/ bikeable, or as car-dependent for Walk Score. For example, a Walk Score of 92 would be described as a Walker’s Paradise.
Walk Score analyzes walking routes based on nearby amenities. Amenities within a 5-minute walk (typically .25 miles) are scored with maximum points. More distant amenities score lower points, with no points after a 30-minute walk. Walk Score does account for some walkability measures, such as analyzing population density, block length, and intersection density, but has been noted for not being able to account for all elements of the pedestrian environment, such as noting safe walking routes with sidewalks or the size of the roads being crossed (e.g., two lane road versus a four lane arterial).
Transit Score is based on data released by local public transportation agencies. Scoring is assigned based on the frequency, type of transit, and distance to the stops from the mapped location.
Bike Score is dependent on four equally weighted factors: bike lanes; hills; destinations and road connectivity; and bike commuting mode share.
To access these three scoring tools, please visit www.walkscore.com.
Brian McKenzie. U.S. Census Bureau. Modes Less Traveled – Bicycling and Walking to Work in the United States: 2008-2012 (2014). Available at https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/acs-25.pdf.
U.S. Census Bureau. When to Use 1-year, 3-year, or 5-year Estimates (Last Revised: September 6, 2018). Available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/guidance/estimates.html.
Economic Development Association of Minnesota. ACS 3-Year Data Product Eliminated — You Can Help (March-April 2015). Available at http://www.edam.org/mpage/dev_2015_Mar_Apr_09.