Sunday, February 2, 2014

How many people in Lincoln Park bike to work? Take transit? Live car-free?

by Michelle Stenzel

The 2010 Census produced a lot of data that has been made public, but it's often not very useful to ordinary citizens until someone overlays the numbers onto a map, and makes it easy for people to see the data come to life. We're fortunate that Shaun Jacobsen of Transitized has recently done just that, with the census data on how Chicagoans commute to work.

Screen shot of the Chicago Commute Mode Map by Shaun Jacobsen of
When you first open the map, it shows what the dominant mode of transportation is for each census tract, whether it's drive alone, carpool, transit, walk, bike, or telecommute. The blue tracts mean that transit is the dominant mode (not necessarily the majority, just the mode with the highest percent) of commuting for those residents, while red is drive alone, and purple is walking. You can hover over any of the tracts to get detailed data on that tract. You can also choose different layers to view by clicking on the icon on the upper left that looks like a stack of papers.  (More -->)

When I first saw the map, I immediately wanted to know where the census tracts in Chicago were with the highest percentages of people who rode bikes to work, and particularly, how we're doing in Lincoln Park. We're doing great! 
Screen shot of Lincoln Park from's Chicago Commute Mode Map, showing the Bike layer, with my addition of selected bike commute mode share percentages.
I've edited the Transitized screen shot to add the percentage of bike commuters for most of the Lincoln Park census tracts. The lightest areas have 3% bike commute share. As you can see, we have mostly tracts of 3% or 4% bike commuters, but sizable areas that have 5% to 8% bike mode share, and one area in the northeastern corner even has a whopping 11%. To give you a comparison, Chicago has a citywide bike commute share of about 1.5%, so even the 3% tracts in Lincoln Park have twice as many bike commuters as the city does on average. 

I've also included the numbers for some of the areas near us, including the impressive 9% and 11% in the Gold Coast, and the 10% and 12% in the Elston corridor.  As for the tracts with the percentage of highest bike commuters in the city, those are just north and west of Humboldt Park, at 19% and 20%. 

But a range of 3% to 11% is still great, Lincoln Parkers! Those of you who are already bike commuting are probably doing it because it's convenient, cheap and fun. But in addition to those benefits, it's also great for your health, public health, the environment, the city's budget, and your fellow bicyclists' safety. 


The next layer I looked at was public transit. What percentage of people in and near Lincoln Park use public transit as their primary way to get to work? 
Screen shot of Lincoln Park from's Chicago Commute Mode Map, showing the Transit layer, with my addition of selected transit commute mode share percentages.
As you can see on the map above, the most number of tracts had a public transit mode share between 40% and 49%. The lighter blue areas were in the 30-39% range.  A few of the tracts, clustered close to the Armitage, Fullerton and Diversey L stops and in the northern part of Lincoln Park, had 50% to 57% transit riders.

Transit is the most common way for Lincoln Parkers to get to work! Of the 19 census tracts from Diversey/lake/North/Southport, only 6 of them had more commuters driving to work than taking transit.  This shouldn't be surprising, as we live in a transit-rich area, with 5 L stops, 3 L lines, and more than a dozen bus routes serving our neighborhood. However, it's still interesting to see the numbers on the map.


The last map I wanted to highlight is the one that shows the percentage of households in the neighborhood that don't own a motor vehicle. The range is 10% to 57% of households in a given census tract that don't own a car.
Screen shot of Lincoln Park from's Chicago Commute Mode Map, showing the "Homes With 0 Vehicles" layer, with my addition of percentages.
In general, the tracts closer to the lake have higher levels of car-free households than those in the western part of Lincoln Park. 

Notice that the census tracts don't have equal numbers of households; generally the tracts closest to the lake have more households. So, in order to get an idea of what the overall percentage of car-free households is in Lincoln Park, I did the math using the data provided for each tract. Of the 31,494 households in the 19 census tracts from Diversey/lake/North/Southport, 9,763 of them do not own a car, which is 31% of Lincoln Park homes overall. That's higher than the citywide average of 25% indicated on the map key.

So what does all this data tell us? 

We already have a good core of people who commute by bike, but imagine how high the numbers would be if there were truly safe bike lanes that more people felt comfortable riding in! Right now there are still many, many stretches of major streets like Diversey, Clark, Lincoln, Fullerton and Halsted that have no bike lanes at all, or virtually none due to street design or worn-away markings. There are still no stress-free routes to take to and from the Loop from Lincoln Park. Once the planned network of improved infrastructure as set forth in the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan is put into place in Lincoln Park, bicycling will continue to increase.
Bicyclists on a Monday morning in June in Lincoln Park. Imagine how many people would choose to ride bike commute if we had a safe network of bike lanes that everyone felt comfortable riding. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
I think the relatively low levels of car ownership and high levels of transit use reflect that Lincoln Park is full of people who understand that the beauty of city life means that one can live car-free or car-light, and still have great access to jobs, schools, grocery stores, service providers and leisure activities.  

Some of the households may be car-free due to constricted finances, legal issues or disabilities, but I think many of the people in the car-free Lincoln Park households have made a conscious choice to live that way. The household income in these same tracts is higher than average, and perhaps these residents are choosing not to spend their money on purchasing, maintaining, and storing a car, but instead using a combination of Ventra pass, Divvy pass, car share membership, ride share, car service, and good old taxicabs to get around. Why not? Cheaper and more flexibility.

The high numbers of transit use for work commuting in our area undoubtedly reflects a support for improved transit in terms of increased frequency of buses or trains if they're overcrowded, extending bus routes where they're currently truncated, and providing dedicated lanes to buses, to make bus trips faster and more reliable.

What do you find interesting about the maps? Did anything surprise you?

Thanks to Shaun for providing the very useful resource!

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