I've heard a lot of seemingly contradictory claims about cycling and driving in the last several years. I hear every year that more people are commuting to work, and that cycling is building momentum. Yet, everything I read suggests that cycling sales are drooping. This is from a recent article in my home-town paper, the Lake County (Ohio) News-Herald:
"A recent study conducted by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association found that children who regularly rode bicycles, ages 6 to 17, dropped by more than a million between 2014 and 2018. From 2018 to 2019, children’s bicycle sales have dropped 7.5%. This drop in sales is worse when considering the 7% decrease in average cost, according to market research firm NPD Group.
The Bicycle Product Suppliers Association has also stated that they've tracked a 19.4% decrease in unit sales and a 6.5% dropoff in total dollar sales in 2019."
On the other hand, I keep hearing about how millenials are driving less and less and not even obtaining driver's licenses. Nonetheless, the total amount of miles driven in the U.S. is going up every year, not down. It is certainly not my perception that any significant decrease in vehicles on the road has occurred in Chicago or the surrounding areas. In fact, given the glut of Uber, Lyft, and other drivers-for-hire, it seems to me that they're more crowded than ever. When I grew up, families had a car. Now, the driveways of houses in a lot of areas look like parking lots. Every single family member seems to have their own car. Other evidence is the astounding length of "rush hour" on the roadways of Chicagoland. Congestion has increased dramatically in recent years. Trying to drive through the city from north to south (or the reverse) on I-90 is horrendous. The Ike is almost always a nightmare as early as 2:00 in the afternoon.
I just don't see any evidence that there has been any significant decrease in Americans' desire to move around by themselves in 3,500-pound vehicles. If anything, those vehicles are growing bigger and bigger right now. I also don't see a dramatic increase in people riding bicycles. In this paranoid era, parents seem too afraid to let their kids just go out and ride around, as I spent so many happy hours doing.
Finally, now that the e-bike lobby has won out and 20-mile an hour (or more) scooters, running purely on throttle power, are allowed to pretend they're bikes and go on the bike lanes. I can live with pedal-assisted e-bikes. I can see where they could do a lot of good. But make that bike a scooter that doesn't have to be pedaled at all and it becomes just another opportunity for Americans to avoid lifting a proverbial finger in the name of healthy exercise. And Americans will take that opportunity, absolutely. E-bike sales are way up and human-powered bike sales are down, according to bike shop owners I talk to. Is that good?
Am I missing something, trend-wise? I hope I am.
The general trend over many decades has been increasing vehicle mileage. Then around 2006 is leveled off and dropped a little bit in the recession. Annual mileage started increasing substantially again in 2015, but it is too early to see if it well resume the pre-2006 trend or if we will have slower growth.
Of course there is more to it than alternatives to cars for transit. There is the working from home phenomenon.
for reference see this chart: https://afdc.energy.gov/data/10315
I take anecdotes of millenial behavior with a grain of salt. The fact is that a car is necessary if you live and work in most places in the country. In the Chicago metro area one usually needs a car to get to work if one works anywhere but the loop.
To look for trends on non-driving preference, i would look at data for regions with good public transit options to see if people are switching away from driving. Note that it is possible to have both increasing congestion and increased switching to driving alternatives because overall transit increases with economic growth. Small trends are hard to tease out of data.
Lots to digest here.
With bike share programs, I can see an increase in bike commuting, and yet still see a drop in sales. I haven't taken my bike out in years since I joined Divvy, and I'm certainly in no hurry to buy a new bike.
I'm not surprised that bike use by children is down. Heck, some kids aren't allowed to play in front of the house unsupervised. When I was a kid it was a right of passage to get a bike, and spend days/evenings at the park playing ball. When the street lights came on, it was time to head home. That's been replaced by the minivan brigade. Kids used to walk and ride bikes to school. Now? Ha. Some schools mandate that kids be dropped off by their parent.
Use of mass transit is down across the country, not that there's much mass transit to begin with outside a few big cities. In places like California, housing costs have forced many people to move farther from work. I believe the average length of a commute has gone up.
No doubt to me that ride share increases the number of miles driven. Take two people who each drive 10 miles to work. That's 40 miles total each day. Now, take the ride share driver. He/She has to drive X miles from home to pick up the first person, drive them 10 miles to work, drive another Y miles to pick up the second person, drive them 10 miles, and then drive Z miles back home. That's X+Y+Z extra miles.
As bad as it is here, be thankful your not in LA. I was there in February, and it took me over 3 hours to get from Simi Valley to Fontana (east of the city).
I'd agree with that second paragraph re kids . . . between that and the hyper-focus on organized activities and filling a kid's day with every possible activity under the sun, it's no wonder they can't enjoy the simple pleasure of biking with your friends and creating your own fun. Of course, the overdependence on cars is a function of this. It's impossible to take your three kids to three different events at the same time without it.
Having said that, and similarly thankful that I don't live in LA, it would be nice to have areas that are more kid-bike-friendly. When I take my kids on the standard routes (they're 11 and 9), we are often met with frustration at slower speeds and dangerous maneuvering.
The US has lost the habitat needed to grow transportation cyclists. Once there were compact neighborhoods, with schools and businesses within biking, or even walking, distance from most homes. Auto traffic was less intense. Riding a bicycle to school, to visit friends, etc., was common. The bicycle was truly a 'freedom machine' for kids. Traveling independently from parents was a big step in growing up. Now, a larger part of the population lives in sprawling suburbs, where distances to schools, friends, and businesses are too great, and auto traffic is far too intense, for transportation cycling by kids to be practical or safe. So it should be no surprise that kids ride less.
If you are looking for trend data then you may find this report from the League of American Bicyclists interesting:
"Big increases" in commuting by bicycle is starting from a very small base. The car lifestyle has been 80 years in the making and is not going to reverse quickly.
On the topic of e-bikes/scooters, I'm not that concerned about throttle assist vs pedal assist, beyond the overall opinion of everyone needing more exercise.
Yes, additional exercise is good for everyone and America as a whole could use a few more minutes of cardio each day, but there are lots of people who exercise regularly and still currently drive to work and/or drive to run errands. If those people can replace just a few car trips with e-bikes or scooter rides, I still see lots of other benefits even if they're just twisting a throttle instead of pedaling.
As for bike sales, the numbers have been on the decline for decades, while prices have continually gone up. Kids are definitely not riding bikes as much as they used to. Some studies blame smartphones, video games, etc. I'm not sure what the answer is, but kids seem to have far less "free time" than they did when I was a kid. Their weekends are more scheduled, structured and planned, and they probably just don't have as much time to go screw off on their bikes.
I'd also say anecdotally that many of the millennials I know (I'm solidly Gen X) who do ride bikes have never bought a brand new bike, or are buying fewer new bikes than I did at their age. The internet has allowed us to easily buy (and sell) used bikes, and having the latest/best bike isn't necessarily a priority for casual riders/commuters who aren't interested in the "serious road biker" scene.
There's also bike share, which is probably eating into urban commuter bike sales a bit. And, as crazy as it sounds, the "Lance effect" sales boom of the late 90's/early 2000's has probably resulted in a post-Lance Armstrong decline, at least in the road-specific market. I wonder how many high-end Trek bikes bought between 99-05 are currently hanging in garages collecting dust?
Shaming people for not "lifting a proverbial finger in the name of healthy exercise" is no way to encourage increased non-car or bicycle mode share as a form of transportation, and one's opinions on anyone else's exercise habits are not important.
Vehicle miles driven in Chicago has been increasing for ages, and is significantly higher than it was in, say, the 80s - I can't recall where I saw the numbers for this.
Declining sales of new bicycles is not necessarily incompatible with increased usage of bicycles as transportation. Transportation is still a quite small share of the overall bicycle market (vs. recreation) and one can be rising while the other is falling at the same time. I don't have any numbers for this, though I'd love to see some. In addition, this does not reflect the use of used bicycles, obviously a viable an affordable option.
America produces the second-largest amount of greenhouse gases per capita in the world. The largest producer of greenhouse gases in America is the petroleum burned in gasoline-powered vehicles. The laziness of Americans (not excluding myself) in driving several-ton vehicles rather than walking, riding, or taking a bus for a few blocks contributes significantly to air pollution and global warming. When Americans drive cars, 85% of the time they are alone. More than 35 percent of all motor vehicle trips in America are for less than two miles. Private vehicles like cars, pick-up trucks, and SUVs, account for 60 percent of trips of a mile or less. So yes, Americans as a group should be ashamed, because they would rather drive their cars to the end of the street than protect the natural world.
Maybe you feel that your opinions are not important. I think they are, as are all rational opinions that contribute to a discussion. I think that enough people bringing these issues to the forefront does help focus people's attention on them and might slowly (very) effect change.
My health club has essentially run out of car parking. Which is to say, it's not necessarily the case that people who drive don't exercise or look out for their health. They swim, lift, run, even ride the stationary bike, and merely elect to drive there. Drivers aren't in shape? If we're inclined to wager against them in the pool, on a track, boxing ring or in 50 mile bike road race, prob'ly wanna keep the bet small. I agree with David P's remarks too.
As we ponder the growth of the number of cars and apparent relative dearth of bikes, we should do away with the notion that registration does much to curtail ownership and participation once and for all. We look around, that's just not happening due to registration at the state and the city level, else we wouldn't be talking about all these cars. I'm curious about how that will ultimately go with e-scooters, and scooter registration, and that may be the pivot point ultimately. It works for motor scooters (motorcycles of course) too, just a different box to check on the forms, and underscores their legitimacy along side cars, much as I may not like them much personally.
In my experience, the best ambassador for cycling is somebody who's a law-abiding rider, is generally courteous and verbally pro-cycling, not merely disliking cars.