Some Bike-Friendly SF Neighborhoods Ahead of the Game, Data Shows

U.S. Census data shows that in some neighborhoods, more than 15 percent of San Franciscans regularly biked to work in 2010. The percent changes highlighted in some neighborhoods indicate the increase since 2000. Image: SFMTA

As the SFMTA figures out how to increase bicycling to 20 percent of all trips citywide, some neighborhoods are already approaching that milestone. A map that the SFMTA compiled from bike-to-work data in the 2010 U.S. Census shows that as of two years ago, some neighborhoods far exceeded the citywide rate of 3.5 percent.

In the Mission and Hayes Valley, more than 15 percent of work trips are made by bike, according to the map. A number of other neighborhoods, like NoPa, western SoMa, and the Inner Richmond have bike commute rates of at least 5 percent and saw jumps as high as 275 percent over the 10-year period.

“This map confirms what we are seeing every day: more people are biking than ever before, especially in those neighborhoods that have made it more comfortable to bike,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of the SF Bicycle Coalition. “This is strong evidence that if the city continues to increase its investment in better biking by connecting neighborhoods with safe, inviting bikeways, San Francisco can reach the goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020.”

Why is bike commuting so popular in these neighborhoods? Some common characteristics jump out, like proximity to downtown and access to flatter routes with bike lanes. For instance, Valencia Street connects the areas around the Mission, and the Wiggle and the Panhandle connect NoPa, the Haight, and the Inner Sunset.

SF State University Geography Professor Jason Henderson thinks overcrowded Muni lines could also drive more residents to try bike commuting. “These are areas where Muni is filled to capacity,” he said. “For example, in Hayes Valley, by the time buses coming from west towards downtown pass through, they are overcrowded. Haight 6 and 71 are always full once crossing Fillmore eastbound.”

“So my hunch is that in part,” he said, “people in the inner ring neighborhoods are fed up with Muni overcrowding and taking up cycling.”

He also suggested other factors that may be at work, like “environmental awareness, health incorporated into routines, and that the actual promotion of bicycling by the SFBC and the SFMTA having an impact, along with the actual bike lanes that did not exist five years ago.”

“Overall, [the data] tells me that we need to provide much more bike space to get to [20 percent of trips by bike], and if we do, we will get there,” he said.

The map was included as part of an SFMTA presentation [PDF] to the SF Capital Planning Committee this week outlining the framework of the upcoming Bicycle Strategy, which SFMTA staff expects to present to its board on January 29. Even if San Francisco isn’t able to reach its official goal of 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020, SFMTA Deputy Director of Planning Tim Papandreou said the agency is optimistic that it can reach that goal within the city’s inner, denser neighborhoods that are already seeing high rates of cycling. Although data hasn’t been collected for bicycling mode-share for all trips, he speculated that the rates for non-commute trips would likely be higher than the rate for commutes alone.

Henderson noted that protected bikeways on Market Street in the Better Market Street plan will be crucial in meeting the SFMTA’s bicycling goals. “One critical thing is looking at the map, the center of the ‘bike core’ is Market Street between Church and Van Ness,” he said. “As Better Market Street goes into design, we need to take away car lanes on the stretch between Church and Van Ness, where the city is accommodating too many cars at the expense of safe cycling. There are sets of two-lane turn lanes feeding cars to Franklin, for example. It is the opposite of sustainable transport what the city is allowing on that part of Market. They need a transit-only lane, and two wide cycle tracks. The cars come last.”

This map outlines the area of the city where SFMTA planners are most confident about reaching 20 percent of trips by bike by 2020. Image: SFMTA
  • mike

    That first map is great. What we need to do is connect the islands of areas with >3.5% mode share to the large core and expand that large area so that it encompasses more and more of the city, esp the flatter portions just outside the core where the latent demand for cycling is likely naturally higher. The Inner Richmond/Sunset and Cole Valley seem like great candidates for higher mode share. The area around SF State and City College could also thrive with the student population there. And what if we create a secure and modern bike station at the West Portal Station so people can ride to the station and take light rail into downtown?

    Lastly, where mode share is already relatively high, we should still focus efforts there to create examples of what bikeable neighborhoods can look like.

  • Less than a fourth of all trips taken are commute trips. The city (and the census) need to collect data on all trips, not just commute trips, and SFBC needs to measure its progress in all trips, not just commute trips. Nationwide, 40% of all trips are under 2 miles, and the number has got to be even higher here in SF. Distances under 2 miles are very, very easy to bike. In Europe bicycle mode share is much, much higher for short trips than longer trips. By focusing so much on commute trips (because it’s the data they have access to) city officials risk ignoring the short trips that have enormous potential for mode share change.

    Nationwide, 55% of Americans drive trips .3 miles in length and 85% of Americans drive trips .6 miles in length. I can’t imagine things are as bad in San Francisco, but it would be very interesting to know mode share for different trip lengths made here in the city.

  • Andy Thornley

    I’m intrigued to see this work unpacking bike mode share (actual & potential) by neighborhood, Portland bike transpo pros have long grasped this reality — SE Portland has a very strong bike mode share while NW Portland has below-average bike utilization and growth prospects, and other neighborhoods are variously bikey and not-so-bikey, a lot of variation from the citywide average — Portland planners understand that the elevation of everyday biking won’t advance evenly across the city and they budget their efforts accordingly, without simply starving the laggards and feeding the leaders (keeping one eye squarely on serving trips that span neighborhoods and the region). It’s interesting to compare this map  and this map , the first being actual (per US Census) and the second being potential (per WalkScore’s blend of factors) — my suburban Richmond District looks strong either way, but my trips to the Portola and Little Hollywood will need some help, bring on the strategy . . .

  • San Francisco already has some numbers on “all trips” by bike. See the latest State of Cycling Report on page 3, where we learn that only 3.5% of all trips in SF are by bike:

    The MTA’s Mode Share Survey of 2011 on page 6 puts the percentage at 3.4%:

  • Anonymous

    Another relevant stat from the SFMTA report is that 17% of San Francisco residents take at least one trip per week by bicycle, and 34% take at least one trip per year on their bike.

  •  Rob, thanks for bringing up the SFMTA report.  I downloaded it when it came out a year and half ago but had forgotten about it.They didn’t collect the data in as fine-grained a way as the census data, so understanding what is going on in individual neighborhoods is difficult, but still there’s lots of great info that’s interesting to examine.  For anyone who hasn’t looked at the report, here’s my summary:

    They divided the city into five zones and lumped together some neighborhoods kind of oddly, which limits a bit what we can glean. Their sample size was small but I’ll assume the company who performed the survey knew what they were doing and it was statistically valid.

    The zones:
    Zone 1–the northeast corner of the city, including Hayes Valley, Potrero Hill, Russian Hill, Soma, Chinatown, North Beach, Telegraph Hill
    Zone 2–Northwest corner of the city, including all of the Richmond plus Western Addition, Pac Heights and the Marina
    Zone 3- Southwest corner of the city, including all of the Sunset plus Lake Merced, Forest Hill and St. Francis Woods.
    Zone 4 (this is the oddest one)–Central/south strip of the city including Ocean View, Ingleside, Excelsior, Glen Park, Noe Valley, Castro and upper and lower Haight
    Zone 5–Southeast corner of the city–including Mission, Bayview, Vis Valley, Hunter’s Point

    So even though a heck of a lot of disparate neighborhoods are lumped together, the results still tell us something. In particular, they didn’t just ask questions about commutes, they asked questions about all trips take in the last two days. (Good!) Sadly, no data about trip distance.

    Zone 1–Highest biking/least car zone. On average took 5.2 trips. Had the highest bike mode share–4.9%.  Highest walk mode share–24.3%.  Highest transit share–26.7%.  Lowest car mode share–39.6%.  Purpose of trip: shop/errands 27.5%, work 28.6%, social 24.6.  17% said they ride bikes for trips in San Francisco.  4.7% take bikes regularly for non-work trips.  7.4% say they regularly commute to work by bike.

    Zone 2–On average took 5.1 trips. Second lowest bike mode share–2.4%. Curiously, second highest walk share–21.8%.  Car–55.8%. Second lowest transit share–17.1. Purpose of trips:  shop/errands 27.3%, work 26.8%, social 21.2%.  14.5% said they ride bikes for trips in San Francisco. 5.1% said they regularly ride bikes for non-work trips. 4.3% said they regularly commute to work by bike.

    Zone 3–The most car intensive/least biking zone. On average took 4.5 trips. Lowest bike mode share–1.5%. Lowest walk mode share–11.4%. Highest car mode share–60.6%.  Lowest transit mode share 16.4%.  Purpose of trip:  shop–35.2%, work 28.8%, social–17.8% (least social group!). Only 7.8% said they ride bikes for trips in San Francisco.  Zero said they ride bikes regularly for non-commute trips. 1.7% said they commute regularly by bike.

    Zone 4–Bike friendly but also high car use? (Maybe due to odd neighborhoods thrown together.) On average took 5 trips. Mode share last two days: bike 3.3%, walk 15.3%, car 58%, transit 20.1%. Trip purpose–shop 20.3%, work 27.8%, social 21.4%. 17.4 % said they ride a bike for trips in SF. 4.9% said they ride regularly for trips other than work. Only 1.9% said they regularly commute by bike.

    Zone 5–Second biggest bike zone, second biggest transit zone. On average took 4.5 trips. Mode share last two days: bike 3.9%, walk 20.1%, car 50.9%, transit 22.4%.  Trip purpose:  shop 25.7%, work 27.6%, social 25.4%. Curiously this zone had a high number of medical trips–3.6%. This was 50% more to twice that of the other zones. 13.6% said they take trips by bike in SF.  4.3% said they regularly take non-work trips by bike. 3.9% said they commute by bike.

    Other interesting observations:
    –in all but zone one people took a higher percentage of non-work trips by bike than work trips.
    –in general rate of biking correlated more strongly with rate of transit use, not rate of walking (which surprises me). Would really need finer grain neighborhood data to know for sure.
    –overall 5% of people said they ride bikes for recreation only (as opposed to trips to a destination) These people might ride for transportation if infrastructure felt better.
    –neighborhoods furthest from downtown (zones 2 and 3) had lowest biking and transit levels. However, Zone 2 had high walking levels.
    –oddly, no one in the age bracket 18 – 25 said they ride a bike to work or to any other destination. I have a hard time believing this is statistically true.
    –for commuters the male/female split is 2/3rds to 1/3rd.  However for trips to places other than work the male/female split is 50 – 50.

    It would be so great to get the same data broken down truly by neighborhood and also get trip length data.

  • Dave Moore

    How can this be reconciled with what I see with my eyes? I’ve stood at the corner of Masonic and Fell and counted cars and bikes. It’s nowhere close to 10%. It’s maybe 1 bike per 20 cars, and mostly less. And that’s during the commute hour on a nice day. It can only be worse in other areas (except Market St) and at other times of day, and in worse weather. So on a yearly basis the percentage of bikes on the street vs cars must be just tiny.

    Sure they’re more dense in person vs square footage (but not as dense as transit). But cars also carry on average more than one person. Bikes do too, but cars carry more per car than bikes.Has anyone ever looked carefully at the way these numbers are collected? I mean the City has never shown any ability to do this well. I’m not sure why we would expect them to now.

  • The city’s own numbers in the reports I linked say only 3.5% of all trips in the city are by bicycle. They used to claim 6%, but the Mode Share Survey couldn’t back that up. Even though riding a bike in SF is done by only a small minority, the city is redesigning its streets against the interests of the overwhelming majority of city residents based on only the hope that a more significant number of people will take up riding bikes.

  • @google-333a3c6be8253ca72913510f16918446:disqus These data show the number of residents in those neighborhoods that commute by bike, not the number of cars and bike trips in the neighborhood. So at Fell and Masonic, you may see lots of cars headed to and from other neighborhoods, but that’s not necessarily reflective of what’s shown on this map.

    Also, this is from the U.S. census conducted by the federal government, not the city.

  • TomT

    Dave, I doubt that bikes are as dense per square foot when you consider that bikes only carry one soul, while a vehicle may typically carry 2 to 4.

    The sheer traffic volume at Fell and Masonic tells me (and I go thru there twice every day) that the bike volume must be less than 5% of total traffic, and perhaps significantly less than that.

  • While we’re on the subject, consider City Hall’s slogan, “20% by 2020.” Since the percentage of cyclists has only increased to 3.5% from 2.1% in the last 12 years, how likely is it that SF will achieve 20% in 8 years, which is more than a 2% increase a year?

  • Rob Anderson is a Hungry Ghost

    Not too likely when there are hungry ghosts like you fighting tooth and nail over every improvement. Why don’t you put your energy in to something that isn’t a detriment to our society? Thanks.

  • Sfthen

     Aaron Bialick wrote, “[the data] is from the U.S. census conducted by the federal government, not the city.”

    Where is this census report with the data?  Your article does not link it so there is absolutely no way of actually evaluating the claim that “one-in-six Mission residents commute to work by bicycle.”

  • @47d5acc5057977e7ae6c2db01a0750bb:disqus The SFMTA cited the U.S. Census American Communities Survey as the source for the data in the map. If you find that claim or the data questionable, you could take it up with the SFMTA or find the data on the American Communities Survey website:

  • Better yet, all the Census data you could ever want. Geek out ya’ll:

  • Yes, I understand that everything the bike lobby and City Hall want to do to our streets is supposedly an “improvement.” Not everyone agrees, which is annoying to True Believers. Like you of course I’m trying to make the world a better place. I think what the Bicycle Coalition and City Hall are doing to San Francisco is bad for the city. The fatuous “20% by 2020” slogan/policy is symptomatic of bad policy—or perhaps just the contempt City Hall has for the intelligence of the people of the city.  

  • Dave:

    You’re right to be skeptical of the numbers. The city has a problem. For years the official number of bicycle commuters since 2000 has been 2.1%. See page 4 of the city’s Transportation Fact Sheet:

    That percentage comes from the ACS, but it has to be just some kind of estimate. Now in the two documents I linked earlier in the thread the city is saying/admitting that all trips by bike in the city are also 3.5%, which doesn’t make any sense. Of course all trips by any mode have to be a larger percentage than the narrower commuter percentage. The MTA paid a consultant to do the Mode Share Survey I linked earlier, and they came up with 3.4% of all trips by bike.

    My conclusion: the original ACS number of 2.1% for bike commuters in SF must be wrong and actually much lower. I don’t know how ACS arrives at their numbers/percentages, but it must be some kind of guesstimate that was simply wrong in this case.

  • And through his meticulous scrutiny of bicycle mode share estimates, Rob Anderson will discount the notion that people will rely more on bicycles if they are encouraged to, as demonstrated in numerous cities around the world and right here in this city (as shown above) with study after study and, well, simple observation.

  •  Tom T- the data shows average capacity for cars is 1.7 – but even with 4 occupants – 4 bikes+riders are smaller than a car. And beyond square footage – 4 bikes weigh roughly 100 pounds, a car is from 1-3 tons, doing orders of magnitude more damage to the roadways.

    Here’s a more graphic representation

    The problem with that bus picture – is that our buses rarely carry that capacity. A bike *always* runs at full capacity.

    Bikes and buses are high density ways of moving people. Bikes and cars are effective at getting the occupant to exactly where they want to go. Only the bike solves each problem.

    And Dave – go stand at 17th/Valencia. Valencia is carrying roughly the same bike capacity as motor vehicles, and the bike share is rising quickly.

  • Anonymous

    @ea1809617b00430091318d0e92a6ef00:disqus I agree that it is going to be really difficult for the city to meet this goal, but it’s ironic to see you complaining about this when you will almost certainly be part of the reason this goal is not met. That’s kinda like somebody digging a hole while I keep throwing dirt back into the hole and then having me complain about how long it’s taking them to dig the hole.

  • Gregski

    Nice to see some healthy hypothesizing about causes beyond the usual “more bike lanes” religion. Professor Henderson’s hunch about oversubscribed Muni lines might be very accurate. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the MTA needed to do to “encourage” more cycling is to continue delivering its wretched, unreliable, soul-sucking streetcar and bus services the experience of which would tempt any able-bodied person to try cycling and hiking.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting for the MTA or the Coalition to acquire any data to prove or disprove the professor’s theory. Their lack of curiosity about why cycling continued to increase even during the 3-year bike-lane injunction is a sign that their beliefs are informed by faith, not facts.

  • James

    The fact that you are 100% against biking, and clearly pivot to facts or public sentiment depending on what suits you, why do you think anyone takes you seriously?


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