The U.S Census Bureau conducts a major census of the United States once every 10 years. In the intervening years, the Bureau conducts a much smaller survey – the American Community Survey – of 3 million households. ACS data provides more up-to-date (but less accurate) information about U.S. communities.
Because of the relatively small sample size, the accuracy of ACS data can be a big issue. But, keeping this problem in mind, it is still interesting to use this data to give us some sense of how well Delaware’s largest communities were doing (as of the last available ACS survey) at making bicycling a safe and convenient transportation option. The most recent 3 year average ACS data (2006-2008) suggests, for example, that Newark was way out in front of other Delaware communities in this regard. While only 0.1% of work commuting trips in Wilmington were done by bicycle, and only 0.3% in Dover, ACS data indicates that in Newark 4.7% of all work commuting trips were done by bicycle in the 2006-2008 period.
We can add some context to these numbers by comparing these Delaware communities to big cities:
Without putting any emphasis on the exact numbers, we can nonetheless see that, as of a couple of years ago, both Wilmington and Dover were at ground level in terms of making their respective communities bike friendly.
In the above table, we compared small Delaware communities to some of the largest cities in the country. From a statistical point-of-view, using these big cities makes sense because of the greater accuracy of the ACS data. But from a more practical point-of-view, comparing Newark to Los Angeles or even Portland, probably isn’t telling us all that much. For Newark, in particular, the more helpful comparison to make is with other college towns (small cities with populations under ~150,000 dominated by the presence of one or more large Universities):
Newark’s ~ 4.7% bicycle mode share places it in the middle tier among college towns (but above some “Silver” bike friendly award towns) and also suggests some other communities that might have lessons that Newark can learn from. Like Newark, Palo Alto, San Luis Obispo and Corvallis are all small college towns, but with apparently (keeping in mind the limits on the accuracy of ACS data) higher bike mode shares. What are they doing that Newark isn’t, but could?