The Share of Denver Commuters Walking, Biking, and Riding Transit Rose a Sliver in 2016

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

New figures from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show a rise in the raw number of people opting to walk, bike, or take a bus or train to work — which should be expected in a growing city. The percentage of people commuting without a car, however, barely budged and sits below its peak.

To put things into perspective, Mayor Michael Hancock says he wants 30 percent of all commutes done by walking, biking, or transit by 2030. According to the new estimates, those commuters comprised just 13 percent of the public last year.

Here’s a more detailed look at the breakdown. (Take these numbers with a grain of salt. In some cases, the growth in mode share is so tiny that it falls within the survey’s margin of error.)

Walking

According to the ACS, 16,856 people typically walked to work in 2016 and accounted for 4.5 percent of all commuters. That’s 2,260 more pedestrian commuters than in 2015.

Commuting by foot peaked in 2012, when walking accounted for 5 percent of all commute trips.

Biking

The number of people who biked to work in 2016 — 8,181 — increased by only 500 people over 2015. That means people biking to work made up 2.2 percent of all commuters last year.

Biking to work peaked in 2012 when it accounted for 2.9 percent of all commutes.

Transit

Last year Denver saw an increase of 1,524 transit commuters over 2015. That’s good for 6.3 percent of all commuters, and up .2 percentage points.

Transit use peaked in 2008 at 9.1 percent.

  • Brian Schroder

    Why is 2012 such an outlier? I can understand what happened in 2008 with the peak in gas prices. In 2012 gas prices were in the middle of a long term peak that was felt for around 4 years. While an even smaller minority what about run commuting? It’s definitely not the same as purely walking to work.

    • TakeFive

      Interesting question about 2012; nothing comes to my mind. Perhaps there was a change in reporting methods at some point?

      • I remember several major snowstorms in the spring of 2012, perhaps that is what drove bike riders and peds to more-heavily use mass transit for a couple of months there?

  • TakeFive

    Not that it’s statistically important but APTA shows a -2.09% decrease in transit from 2015 to 2016 despite the A Line opening. http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/Ridership/2016-q4-ridership-APTA.pdf

    With all of the residential construction in and around downtown it’s inevitable that those numbers should drift higher simply from that.

    • TakeFive

      BTW, I gleaned a few things from the 2014 RapidRide Performance Evaluation.

      Unsurprisingly, time is the most important factor when deciding to ride a bus, or not – according to surveys. I’m certainly familiar with the refrain that people don’t want to spend twice as much time riding a bus to work.

      I suspect that offering an “enhanced” product was even more important. The key issues of convenience, security and efficiency are all improved by a more competitive product. In essence the total package including modest time savings is just plain more appealing.

  • I don’t see Mayor Hancock”s goal as being within reach with RTD flat broke and talking about closing sections of FasTracks due to low ridership, while other sections remain unfinished without the funding to finish them for another 25 years barring another major recession or two, or the chance that Trump could win reelection in 2020.

    The North Metro is in very poor shape from a public transit perspective as we have repeatedly been lied-to and marginalized, and now RTD can’t even get people to ride trains that were either extremely-expensive per-mile to build or were built well out of the initial construction time-frame to benefit anyone but us. Why does Denver, CDOT, and RTD so hate North Metro residents that they would repeatedly lie to us and cheat us?

    Right now if the rate of growth Metro-Denver has seen over the last 5 years continues through 2035 or 2040 Metro-Denver will surge to between 4.3 and 4.8 million people, and responsible long-term planning dictates that as transit funding is not available for a minimum of another 4 years and possibly 8 years, we are going to be forced to fund roadway improvements to ensure that the 2015 DRCOG forecast for a doubling of roadway congestion by 2040 is not realized.

    With our local economy as strong as it is, I could see trying to get a local urban Front Range ballot measure to increase local fuel taxes by at-least 5 cents per-gallon if not 10 cents per-gallon, which would only put us near the median of US States for fuel tax revenue. It is plain that conservative Colorado residents aren’t willing to help fund our continuing growth so we are going to have to do it on our own if we don’t want utter gridlock like Boston sees every day.

    Any ballot measure for a local urban Front Range fuel tax increase should stipulate that 80% of the funding go to roadway congestion mitigation and the other 20% be split between targeted mass transit funding, improved pedestrian funding, and bicycle infrastructure funding.

    I feel that it is imperative to get the FasTracks North Line completed to 160th Ave ASAP as we are early into major development here with dozens of new subdivisions, a giant mixed-use residential/office complex, and several major retail and warehouse plans starting development here, plus there is an existing proposal for BRT on Hwy 7 from Lafayette and Brighton tying into it that would help reduce already existing severe congestion on Hwy 7.

    The FasTracks Northwest Line also needs to be completed as there is already-existing TOD development at several planned stops now stuck without their promised trains for 25 years and several proposals for additional TOD in Longmont and at other planned stations that could further increase transit usage.

    If there is any hope of increasing transit ridership these already-existing projects must get their promised trains, otherwise a whole lot of money will have to be spent on major roadway improvement further exacerbating the single-occupant commuting issue both suburb to suburb and from the north and northwest metro to and from downtown Denver too.

    Eventually I could see another FasTracks line serving the Hwy 85 corridor including Commerce City, Henderson, Brighton, and possibly eventually as far as Fort Lupton as that area is also rapidly filling-in. That existing rail corridor runs right up to Greeley in-fact though there wouldn’t be much potential ridership in any of the small towns between Greeley and Fort Lupton or Brighton.

    Perhaps a small portion of any urban Front Range fuel tax increase could be devoted to construction of higher-speed rail between Fort Collins, Denver, and Pueblo too. Perhaps in the future if mass transit ridership can be increased beyond 20% we can tinker with the funding percentages of any urban Front Range fuel tax increase and/or any proposal to begin taxing vehicular use by the mile rather than by the gallon.

    What better time would there be to try to enact additional urban Front Range fuel tax funding than right now with our economy doing as good as it has ever done, as we are seeing rapid growth that will quickly add to our congestion issues if funding for transit funding and congestion mitigation isn’t readily available and we are stuck with Trump and the Republican position on additional Statewide highway or Federal mass transit funding?

    If raising the local urban Front Range fuel tax caused any local businesses to relocate to Lincoln or Morgan County I say have at it and don’t let the door hit you from behind on your way out of town either.

  • nwestergaard

    Very selective reporting, David. What’s the matter? Are you terrified (your favorite word for dissenters like me) of the truth? What percentage of people drove to work during this time? Why wasn’t that number in your article, I wonder? Because it would reveal the disproportionate attention transit, biking and walking get in Streetsblog Denver’s discussions about transportation needs in Denver. If you add up all the people who bike, walk or take transit to work every day, it would be less than half the number of cars that use a single main street in Denver — Broadway — every single day.

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