For years, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey has given Portland’s bicycle advocates reason to raise their arms in victory with its annual report on how Americans get to work.

The data consistently shows that the Rose City is the undisputed champion of bicycle commuting, with the latest study revealing 6.2 percent of Portland’s workers go by bike. Understandably, City Hall has used the highly regarded information to support myriad efforts to invest in infrastructure such bike lanes and sidewalks.

But now the Census Bureau is reportedly considering eliminating the biking and walking question from its commuting surveys altogether, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking.

The bike-advocacy alliance has responded with a “Count Us” campaign, asking people to complete an online Census feedback form by Friday.

Dylan Rivera, a PBOT spokesman, said it’s not just a Portland issue. “We need to understand the extent of biking and walking as transportation options,” he said. “The lack of basic data can hurt our ability to meet those needs in Portland and across the country.”

Beyond bragging rights, eliminating biking and walking questions from the nation’s most comprehensive, scientific and consistent survey would be a huge blow to Portland, which uses the neighborhood-level data to help identify areas in need of safety improvements for commuters who choose to leave their cars at home.

On the national level (and in the Portland suburbs), bicycling – while growing – barely registers as a consequential commuting choice. Indeed, the 2013 Census survey results showed only about 2 percent of commuters in the entire Portland metro area bicycle to work (and that number is heavily influenced by city’s pedaling revolution).

If the bike and walking questions disappeared, I’m assuming they would be replaced by the non-specific “other” option.

The Census Bureau has yet to return my attempts to get an explanation of why they’re considering the change. However, it may be a budget-cutting measure, since every option on a survey amounts to additional cost for taxpayers.

That said, it’s hard to argue that Census Bureau surveys should tell the story of America as a whole, not just the dominant ethnic, religious or transportation culture.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking is so worried about the bicycling and walking question going away that it has posted step-by-step, cut-and-paste answers that people can use to answer the Census feedback form.

“Nobody would be able to produce research like the Benchmarking Report, which illuminates trends in active transportation,” the group tells supporters.

Still, when you’re fighting for respect, I’m not sure cringe-worthy Step No. 7 does more good than harm on the PR front:

  1. Click here to comment in the Census’ content review process.
  2. Click “See All Economic Topics,” then click Journey to Work.
  3. Check the box next to “How did this person usually get to work last week?” 
  4. Scroll down and click “Next Step”
  5. Answer the questions on this next page. You could write your own answers, or borrow from us:

a. Please tell us how you use the information from this question.
This data from this question are essential to having consistent, reliable information about how people get to work. Without the data from this question, we would have no way of knowing how many people and where people walk and bike to work. Biking and walking trends have consistently proven useful as key safety and public health indicators. Information from this question is absolutely crucial to needs for non-motorized transportation infrastructure, travel demand, and policies. Moreover, these data are not readily available from other sources on a reliable basis. Without this information, citizens would be unable to estimate the rate of bicycling and walking to work, the growth of bicycling and walking to work, and the relative safety of bicycling and walking to work in their states and communities.

b. The American Community Survey might not be the only source for this information. Is there another source that you use?

c. If yes, is the American Community Survey your primary source for this information? 

d. If yes, please tell us why the American Community Survey is your primary source for this information. It is possible to collect travel data from The National Household Travel Survey, which has occurred irregularly since 1983. This survey does provide more comprehensive data on the use of biking and walking for travel and transportation. However, it last occurred in 2009 and the next version will occur in 2015. It is not a substitute for the annual data produced by the American Community Survey. 

In addition, numerous local governments, agencies, and private organizations produce bicycle and pedestrian counts of varying consistency. But without a national standard for these data, it is impossible to compare counts across the United States. For this reason, the American Community Survey is the best and most consistent source for national and local data on bicycling and walking. 

e) Please tell us if you have any additional comments about any of the questions on the American Community Survey that you use.
Because not everyone gets to work by just one mode of travel, it would be very useful for the American Community Survey to ask whether people use multiple modes to get to work or use more than one mode of travel to get to work most weeks. Data on the use of multiple modes to get to work would provide a more accurate snapshot of Americans’ transportation choices and would help measure the success of multimodal infrastructure and projects. 

6. Click submit.
7. Pat yourself on the back for doing your civic duty to protect valuable commuting data.

Source: The Oregonian
June 25, 2014
By Joseph Rose