A recent study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that Santa Barbara County exceeded the national and Californian average for 2011 in percentage of commuters who bike to work.
The annual study asked one out of every 35 households how each worker in the house of at least 16 years of age traveled to work and shows a steady increase in the number of Americans biking to work. Data revealed that four percent of commuters in Santa Barbara County use a bicycle to get to work, which is above the Californian average of one percent and the national average of 0.56 percent.
Christine Bourgeois, the Education Coordinator for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, said a combination of desirable biking conditions and support within the community account for Santa Barbara’s greater number of commuting bicyclists.
“The weather is perfect, [and] then we have really good bike infrastructure and bike lanes, specifically in Goleta on the open trail. We have pretty much the perfect conditions for biking,” Bourgeois said. “Also, more and more employers offer a shower at the work site so that is a big incentive for many people. In California, people are very active. It is a lifestyle.”
According to census data, the number of bicycle-riding commuters in Santa Barbara County has increased 63 percent in the last decade. The number went from 4,822 in 2000 to 7,859 in 2011, surpassing the increase in the number of workers in Santa Barbara over the same period six-fold. Of the 196,607 surveyed in Santa Barbara County, nearly 82 percent of workers drove a car, truck or van to work, four percent walked and 3.3 percent used public transportation.
According to Kent Epperson, the Director of Traffic Solutions at the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, traveling by bicycle improves health, alleviates traffic and preserves the environment.
“It has a multifaceted impact on community and individuals,” Epperson said. “For the individual, it helps people become healthier and less obese and helps your heart. In terms of the community, it helps reduce traffic congestion and makes the road move more smoothly. It also reduces our petroleum use and our carbon footprint. Lastly, it obviously reduces air pollution.”
Census data also showed a 1.3 percent increase in bike commuters, mostly in the Carpentaria and Goleta areas and a 0.9 percent increase in bus commuters, which accounted for the 3.5 percent decrease in driving commuters.
UCSB biochemistry professor Norbert Reich, who bikes to work every day, said he is skeptical whether the data reflects the difference in commuters who bike to work for pleasure versus those who bike to work out of financial necessity. He said he personally bikes to work for the many benefits it has to offer.
“I would like to take a look at this data and see if it reflects these low-income commuters who bike because they have no other way,” Reichsaid.“Idoitbecauseone,Igetgreatexercise.Two,Ihavealow impact on the environment. Three, it is a beautiful ride, so it has the aesthetic aspect. Four, it gives me time to think about things that I otherwise would not have time to in a car.”
Bourgeois currently runs a program called Bike to School that encourages Santa Barbara County high school students to choose biking over other methods of transportation. She hopes encouraging biking as an everyday means of transportation will maintain Santa Barbara’s growing number of biking commuters and create a future generation of bikers.
“After school we have a ‘Pedal Program.’ Kids that do not have a bike borrow a bike from us for six weeks and we show them bike mechanics,” Bourgeois said. “After the six weeks, low-income kids get a free bike. We just finished five programs in five different schools.”
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of November 14th, 2012’s print edition of the Nexus.