Saturday, October 01, 2011

Commuting in the US---and San Francisco

Photo from Getty Images

A big traffic weekend---Critical Mass, the annual free concert in the park (too much of a good thing?), and the Oracle convention---was the subject of Will Reisman's story in yesterday's Examiner. But Reisman found a silver lining for SF:

But while motorists are stuck in traffic this weekend, they can ponder this bit of good news: Congestion in San Francisco has actually improved recently. The metro area is the seventh most congested region in the country — which is one spot better than the prior year’s ranking, according to the latest report from the Texas Transportation Institute.

But a report more useful in putting commuting traffic in a national context was published this month by the Census Bureau, Commuting in the United States: 2009.

This report will be disappointing to the anti-car movement:

...among workers 16 years and over, 86.1 percent commuted in a car, truck, or van in 2009, and 76.1 percent drove to work alone. About 5 percent of workers commuted by public transportation, and about 3 percent walked to work. All other transportation modes were used by less than 1 percent of workers who did not work at home (page 3).

The report tells us that this is not a new or surprising trend:

The private automobile’s dominance among travel modes used for the commute represents a longstanding pattern. The 1960 Census was the first to include questions specifically related to commuting. Figure 2 shows that the number of workers who commuted by private automobile increased continuously between 1960 and 2009, from about 41 million to about 120 million.

Why do people increasingly use motor vehicles to get to work? Because it's much faster: "For all workers combined, public transportation commuters averaged over 20 minutes longer getting to work than those who drove alone" (page 14).

But what about bikes and commuting? A list of the "Top Ten Metro Areas for Commutes to Work by Bicycle: 2009" has only relatively small college cities, with Corvallis, Oregon---population 49,000---leading the list with 9.3%. Corvallis is home to Oregon State University and is also completely flat.

An earlier American Community Survey found that in San Francisco itself 3% of commuters use bicycles, but apparently the SF metropolitan area as a whole doesn't follow our example.

San Francisco as a city does much better than the rest of the country with 31.8% using public transportation, while only 38.9% "Drive Alone," According to the MTA's Transportation Fact Sheet of November, 2010.

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