Census Data shows Biking and Walking to Work Bouncing Back

Earlier this month the Census Bureau released its 2022 1-year estimates for the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is the only annual nationwide dataset that includes estimates of how many people are biking and walking. It provides estimates for only one type of trip and only counts one mode per person, so its estimates reflect the way in which survey respondents get to work for the majority of miles during the last week when they take the survey.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to remarkable changes in 1-year ACS estimates. The changes to peoples’ lives meant that no 2020 1-year estimate was possible. Most people commuted less, far more people worked from home, and changes to how people get to work continue to be borne out in new ACS data. While 2021 1-year estimates showed dramatic decreases in people commuting by biking, walking, transit, and driving the new 2022 estimates show recovery to levels near pre-pandemic 2019 5-year estimates. 

Recovery is most noticeable in national figures that show multi-year tracking over time.

Recovery is also easy to see for most large cities featured with multi-year tracking and where 2021 vs. 2022 comparisons were made.

For other tables, the bounce back is less noticeable as we chose to use the 2019 5-year estimate as a reference point for pre-Covid commuting for states. In most places, that means that the overall decreases in people primarily commuting by biking and walking show up without the recovery from the more dramatic decrease at the height of the pandemic.

At this point in time, it is difficult to say if the bounce back is the start of a new increase or a return to the pre-pandemic trend that saw several years of less biking and walking to work. Data from StreetLight Data, which uses cell phone tracking to account for more trips, shows many places where biking has increased and highlights the narrow window on overall trips that is the commute to work. The commute to work is only about 10% of trips but continues to be the only nationally available annual data on biking and walking, providing a snapshot of how much biking and walking happens.

Nationally, driving alone remains 5% below its 2019 5-year estimate, while biking is off by 15% and walking is off by 5%. While 2022 1-year estimates show more people working than in 2019, those people are not driving, biking, or walking to work at the same rates they once did. Working from home is the largest non-car type of commuting in most places and we have added working from home to several city-based figures.