California Biking, Walking, Transit Use Up Despite Little Investment

Caltrans' latest Household Travel Survey report shows significant increases in walking and bicycling

The news from Caltrans’ 2012 California Household Travel Survey is not too surprising: Californians are making more trips by walking, bicycling, and transit than they were in 2000. The survey found the percentage of trips by these modes doubled in ten years and make up nearly 23 percent of all trips in the state.

That means car trips decreased dramatically, from 86 percent of trips to 75 percent. This includes trips where people are passengers in cars — for drivers only, the decrease is from 60 percent of trips to 49 percent. This confirms a recent US Public Interest Group (PIRG) report that got a lot of media attention about millenials choosing to drive less and being more interested in active forms of transportation.

“The California data is the first new travel survey since the last federal National Household Travel Survey in 2009, so it’s very significant that it shows such a steep decline in driving and a doubling in the share of transit, biking and walking,” said Phineas Baxandall of USPIRG. “It shows the last federal survey wasn’t a fluke.” The national survey showed a jump in walking trips, a slight increase in transit trips, and an increase in “other” modes, under which bicycle trips would fall.

“The fact that we’re seeing this in California, the heart of the former car culture, is also delicious,” he added.

The survey report misses a few opportunities. It supplies information about the households it surveyed, including income levels, access to cars, and age. However, it doesn’t break down the mode results according to any of these factors, which would reveal whether it’s just people ages 18 to 30 who are driving less, or whether immigrant households rely more heavily on transit than other groups.

“This would help inform where future transportation investment should be made,” said Baxandall.

The shift in travel comes with only 1 percent of the state transportation budget going towards walking and bicycling. Consider how much more bicycling would increase if funding for that mode was brought up to, say, 1.5 percent — matching its statewide mode share, and making bicycling dramatically more convenient, safe, and attractive.

“Demand data like this must inform transportation planning efforts and direct investments at the state level,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, advocacy organizer for the National Safe Routes to Schools Partnership California. But California’s 2014-15 budget, which proposes $1.7 billion in new revenue for transportation, including $850 million from the cap-and-trade program, includes no significant new revenue for the Active Transportation Program, nor other programs that fund walking and bicycling projects. The State Transportation Improvement Program, which is the primary source of funding for capital projects, would continue to be dedicated almost entirely to highway expansion for years to come.

Caltrans does seem to get it, at least at the top. Director Malcolm Dougherty wrote in the press release, “Based on this research, we can make good decisions about transportation that will improve mobility, air quality, and travel choices for all Californians and make our state a better place to live and work.”