I think anyone in a major metropolitan area can attest that there is a bicycling renaissance in North America. A new study found that it's not an equal opportunity cycling revolution, nor is it evenly spread. Worst of all, is what the data shows in terms of gender equality in the cycling stream (or lack thereof).
"Almost all the growth in cycling in the United States has been among men between 25 and 64 years old, while cycling rates have remained steady among women and fallen sharply for children." - Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, "Bicycling Renaissance in North America? An Update and Re-Appraisal of Cycling Trends and Policies"
Buehler and Pucher set out to to expand and update a study they did nine years ago (scroll all the way down for 1999 paper) pointing out the trends in North American cycling.
What they found in looking back at the last decade is that bicycling has continued to increase, with the total number of bike trips tripling between 1977 and 2009, and cycling's share of total trip rising from 0.6% of trips to 1.0% of trips. (National Personal Transportation Surveys and National Household Travel Surveys data).
As far as where cyclists are clustered, looking at American Community Survey (Census) figures shows a big difference in cycling in Alabama, Tennessee, and West Virginia, where 0.1% of commuters go by bike, and Oregon and the District of Columbia, where 1.9% of commutes are by bicycle. In both Canada and the U.S., the authors note, cycling is higher in the western areas, and on the coasts. Bike-to-work commutersare especially sparse in the southeastern U.S.
Of special note is the fact that (dispelling the myth that cycling is a fair-weather activity) the highest levels of commuter bikers is in Canada are in the Yukon (2.6%) and the Northwest Territories (2.1%).
Buehler and Pucher studied the data for gender trends, and what they found was a male-dominated picture. Men have always been the majority in both commuter and sport cycling, and those trends are actually accelerating. Men aged 25 - 64 made up the bulk of the growth spurt of cycling. From 2001 to 2009, in fact, the percentage of all bike trips made by women in the U.S. dropped from 33% to 24%. What's behind the drop? Pucher speculates only that perceptions of safety may have much to do with it, as women seem more sensitive to ideas of personal safety than men.
In addition, a very pertinent piece of data from the study, in light of U.S. obesity rates, is the drop in younger cyclists. The share of all bikes trips made by persons younger than 16 fell from 52% in 2001 to 39% in 2009.
While women and younger people aren't getting on their bikes at the same rates as adult men, they should be. For the good news from Buehler and Pucher's analysis of the data is that cycling safety continues to improve both in the U.S. and in Canada.
Fatalities per 10 million bike trips fell by a massive 65% in the U.S. between 1977 and 2009, from 5.1 to 1.8 fatalities per 10 million trips. In Canada, fatalities per 10,000 riders dropped from 4 in 1996 to 3 in 2006.
What do Buehler and Pucher conclude about the "bike renaissance" in North America? It is growing, and has become more widespread since the pair's 1999 research. The boom is limited to "a few dozen" cities, and these, the authors say, are islands (of primarily male cyclists) in a sea of car dominance.