It’s true, bicycling is booming in many U.S. cities, especially those that are working hard to become more bike-friendly. From 2000 to 2009, bike commuting grew 62% in the 70 largest U.S. cities and 71% in the 31 largest Bicycle Friendly Community-designated cities. That’s compared to 44% for the U.S. as a whole. It’s a great time to ride a bike if you are one of the 30% of Americans who live in the heart of a city, but what about the rest of us? One-fifth of Americans live in a rural area, and 50% live in a metropolitan area but outside of the central city (a.k.a. the suburbs.) How is bicycling faring there?
Not so well, concludes Rutgers University professor John Pucher. “A bicycling renaissance is indeed underway in many cities of North America, but they are islands in a sea of car-dominance,” he writes in a 2011 Transportation Research Journal paper. Lower bicycling levels in suburban and rural areas is due in large part to the urban form and land use that make bicycling for short trips a less attractive option than it is in a city. Roads are less connected and destinations are farther apart. This may be fine for recreational bicycling—open roads with few stoplights are what you want on a 30-mile road bike ride—but not for using the bicycle as an everyday way of getting around (which is the kind of bicycling that is driving its growth, according to Pucher.)