Is Bike Share Worth It? Mapping Where Bike Share Works Best Countywide

The value of bike infrastructure in Los Angeles County has not gone by unquestioned: in Long Beach, morning commuters were downright irked by the separated bike lanes along Broadway and 3rd while L.A.’s MyFigueroa! project continues to face battles of its own (despite an endorsement from the Los Angeles Times).

With commuters wondering how bicyclists are achieving so much so quickly—by now, it would be political suicide for an urban politician to frown upon bicycling and pedestrian accessibility—and amping their ammunition against such measures is going to require numbers to get them to support further infrastructure. If there is one argument that anyone can have, it is: Will it be used?

Enter Shane Phillips, a transportation junkie who not only believes in the power of stepping outside of a car but more importantly, knows how people can be influenced by visuals.

“I find it fascinating how accessible maps (and map-making) have become,” Phillips said. “There’s so much data out there at this point that if you’re interested in a topic and want to visualize it, you can probably dig up the data somewhere. And unlike even five years ago, you can do it without being an expert in GIS or other sophisticated software.”

So he mapped the viability of implementing a bike share program in every census in tract in Los Angeles based upon how people get to work.

Inspired by Transitized—Chicago’s massive interactive map that tells you precisely how Chicagoans move around—Phillips used Google Fusion to use geospatial information with data he had about bike usage amongst all census tracts.

““My original intent with the bike mode share was to see if any corridors stood out as highly-trafficked by bicycles, and to potentially use that data in support of investments in bicycle infrastructure where people were riding a lot already,” Phillips said.

The end game? An entire map which shows where bike share would not only be best installed but most used for commuters.

“If we’re spending so little on bicycles but some corridors are seeing upwards of 5 or 10 percent bicycle mode share, that’s a pretty clear indication that more spending is warranted,” Phillips said.

Most census tracts, according to Phillips, have less than an 8% bicycle share mode so he grouped everything above that amount into the category that needs it most (the darkest green on the map).

Not shockingly, the corridor along the MyFig project is one of the most viable, as are bike-centric communities like Santa Monica and North Hollywood. Some surprises include not only the Valley (Cahoga Park, anyone?) and Whittier.

Another surprise was Long Beach: not even hitting a single share above 8%, it seems that most in Long Beach not only recreationally bike but the most viable spots (those reaching somewhere between 4% and 6%) are (not shockingly) Retro Row and Downtown (the Shore had nada).

Of course, one should remember that Phillips was relegated to work commute data so non-work trips are not included; the casual rider on days-off is excluded which not only opens the door for a much-needed data gathering troupe (hint, hint, Bike Long Beach) but also the fact that perhaps we shouldn’t relegate our analysis to commuters only.

“Not all neighborhoods are fortunate enough to have been created with those natural advantages—y’know, slower speed limits, less traffic, flatter terrain,” Phillips said, “but I think it’s been shown pretty universally that if you make a place bike-friendly, people will ride. Coming from Seattle where the weather and the topography are both obstacles, places like LA and Long Beach really have no excuse.”

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food to politics to urban transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 12 nominations and an additional win for Best Political Commentary. Born in Big Bear, he has lived in Long Beach since college. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.