The Lesson From Bike to Work Day: Regionalism

Ballston Pit Stop - Washington DC Bike to Work Day - WABA table

Last Friday’s Bike to Work Day was a great success, setting a new record for registered riders and number of pit stops.  Thanks to the beautiful weather and great activities provided by pit stop sponsors, the over 14,500 riders who came out were treated to a fantastic celebration of biking to work.

This weekend, I started looking through Bike to Work Day’s final registration tallies and data. And all figures pointed in the same direction: Bicycling is growing in the entire region, so we need to continue our ability to grow our regional advocacy approach accordingly. Hopefully, the expansion of our advocacy work in recent years and the launch this winter of our suburban outreach program has helped to dispel any remaining notion that WABA is only about biking in D.C.

We have increased our efforts in suburban jurisdictions, just as Bike to Work Day has expanded its pit stop offerings away from downtown and into all parts of the region. We can see the results. Bike to Work Day’s top three overall pit stops were evenly spread: one in Virginia (Rosslyn), one in Maryland (Bethesda), and one in the District (Freedom Plaza). This makes sense given the region’s employment density, and, in my view, reflects that the decision by the Bike to Work Day organizers to better cover the region with pit stop opportunities was the correct one. What we lose in the optics of everyone in a giant gathering at a single location, we gain back in overall growth and attraction of new riders throughout the region who want pit stops convenient to their commutes.

Of course, no discussion of regionalism in transportation can go far without addressing the elephant in the room: WMATA.  Previously, though it’s engaged on transportation issues that affect bicyclist and pedestrians, WMATA had played a limited role in Bike to Work Day.  Since the completion of its excellent Bicyclist & Pedestrian Access Study, WMATA has taken steps to further encourage integration of bicycling and Metrorail/Metrobus commuting. This year, it hosted two pit stops at two Metro stations, West Hyattsville and Cheverly. The choice of these stations was especially important, because they’re in areas of relatively low Bike to Work Day registration. Additionally, West Hyattsville is a major destination for Spanish-speaking bike commuters who are more difficult to reach through traditional marketing, outreach, and education channels; Cheverly is in the region east of the city that notably underserved in biking infrastructure. WMATA’s pit stops didn’t break attendance records, but they helped us  broaden the event demographically and geographically and provide additional outreach on bicycling to communities we might not have reached otherwise.

Next year, we hope to work further with WMATA to encourage non-cyclists to try bicycling by better marketing the multi-modal commute—and ensuring that people understand that biking to Metro counts for Bike to Work Day.

Finally, the final tally did allow us to compare participation by jurisdiction to see where we have more work to do to encourage greater bike commuting.  In total, Virginia had the most registered riders, followed by the District, with Maryland slightly behind. Given the relative populations of the jurisdictions, we would like to see higher numbers from Maryland relative to the District and Virginia. These Bike to Work Day numbers confirmed a concerning trend we’ve already recognized in our own membership and supporter data. As a result, in the past week we have submitted proposals to Montgomery and Prince George’s County to expand education and outreach activities, in hopes of growing ridership in Maryland. One measure of our success will be next year’s state-level breakdown of Bike to Work Day data.

Thank you to everyone who registered and rode on Friday. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t be a statistic,” implying that “being a statistic” is only applied to bad outcomes.  In biking, where our governments are often unwilling or unable to invest in generating the data and statistics that would help us make the case that bicycling is important to the region’s transportation, health, and economy, being a statistic—especially on Bike to Work Day—is incredibly helpful.

We can’t thank you enough for being a living, breathing person who came out to celebrate bicycling with us.  And thank you for being a statistic who will help us demonstrate the demand for bicycling and push for better bicycling in the coming year.

Image by Flickr user MegaBeth. Join our Flickr pool!