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Mapping Bike Culture: Philly Scores High, More Data on the Way

Among our nation's largest 10 cities, Philadelphia easily has the most people riding their bicycles to work, a known fact spread by local bicycle advocates for a few months now. There's even a really useful map, put together by University of Oregon Environmental Studies Master's student Kory Northrop, which the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia blogged about earlier this week.

The map, using American Community Survey data from 2004-2009, also says we've got more people bicycling to work than all American cities except for Portland, and rank ninth nationally according to percentage (2.16 percent). We're one of only three East Coast cities (Boston and D.C. are the others) on the list.

Still, the numbers and the map don't tell the entire story. There are multiple local initiatives that aim to obtain more recent and specific data to support the need for more bicycle friendly roadways and communities.

"Bicycle travel is very local and what you're going to see is higher concentrations in Center City, South and West Philly than you will in Northeast or Southwest," says John Boyle, the Bicycle Coalition's advocacy director. "It will also allow us to compare to other cities to give us an idea of what types of neighborhoods bicyclists live in."

In addition, Boyle says, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and City Hall have teamed to perform automatic bicycle counts using standard road-counting equipment (the setup that looks like a camera, tripod and long hose and counts cars from the side of the road).

The Bicycle Coalition has long been performing manual bicycle counts using volunteers, who also look at cyclist behavior, like whether they're wearing helmets. However, the more reliable data from DVRPC and the City is expected to validate the Bicylce Coalition's historical findings, giving 24-hour counts of bicycling at 60 intersections throughout the city.

"We're excited to see the data," says Boyle. "It's going to tell us a whole lot. Part of the problem with trying to sell bicycling is a lack of data."

If they become an inherent part of city and regional planning, automatic bicycle counts will allow the Bicycle Coalition and other advocacy groups to focus on collecting data no bicyclist behavior.

"I think you're going to see a very good picture of the state of cycling in the city," Boyle says.

JOE PETRUCCI is managing editor of Flying Kite. Send feedback here.

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