Bikes and Scooters Could Replace a Lot of Car Trips in U.S. Cities

And even if a small percentage of drivers switch from single occupancy vehicles, it could make a big difference for everyone.

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Almost half of all car trips in U.S. cities are three miles long or less. That little nugget of information has long been understood, hinted at by U.S. Census surveys, but now a transportation data company has confirmed and expanded on it. INRIX Research constantly collects anonymous travel data from a wide variety of sources. Its clients include cities, vehicle manufacturers, fleet managers, and data providers.

Its research arm has taken a small slice of that data to show a relatively simple way cities could dramatically improve congestion.

Of over fifty million trips in a single month in the 25 most congested U.S. cities, INRIX Research found that 48 percent of all car trips are less than three miles in length, with about twenty percent being shorter than one mile.

Walking and e-scooters can be good options for trips between a half and one mile long, while bikes are frequently used for trips between one and three miles long. The problem in most cities is that infrastructure is lacking because investments have favored car travel, making bike and scooter networks disconnected and potentially dangerous for people who would opt for these modes.

But if some of those short trips could be switched from cars to bikes or scooters, cities would benefit greatly. And not all drivers, or even very many, would need to switch. Past studies, including of the London congestion zone when it was first implemented, have shown that a small mode shift of four to five percent could cut congestion by as much as 25 percent.

“Micromobility and scooter share really need to be treated as a serious form of transportation,” said Trevor Reed, a transportation analyst for INRIX and the author of the report. “They’re not just a cool fad for urban hipsters. And infrastructure improvements would not just benefit people who use scooters, they can help drivers and bus riders. They can be a real solution to congestion.”

“And it’s cheap,” he added.

The INRIX report took a detailed neighborhood-level look at the west side of Los Angeles. The map below plots all the car trips there that are under three miles long. The darker the blue, the shorter the trips.

Car trips of under three miles in the western part of L.A. The darker the blue, the more short trips are made by car. Source: INRIX

You can see a dark vein along the future Purple Line route.

“If you’re seeing a ton of these short car trips, it’s probably a function of inadequate infrastructure,” said Reed.

Better walking facilities, safer streets and bike lanes, and access to e-scooters and bike share could offer options for people who would rather not drive for those trips.

That visible dark blue vein means that not only will the Purple line be providing much-needed service once it’s complete, but that L.A. would benefit from incorporating plans for more micromobility options like bike-share, protected bike lanes, and scooters in those areas.

“The point of this initial research is to show the power of data to help cities make decisions about how to improve infrastructure,” said Mark Burfeind of INRIX. “There are so many other ways cities can use data: to improve bus service, to look at how better to knit together those areas that people want to get to. This report just scratches the surface.”

3 thoughts on Bikes and Scooters Could Replace a Lot of Car Trips in U.S. Cities

  1. Melanie, I appreciate your enthusiasm and advocacy. I been riding bicycles for 55 years, motorcycles for 45, have lived in the Valley since 1977 next to CSUN, I made my college money in the summers by doing moving for undeserved communities with my pickup truck (“College Movers”).

    Scooters are not being used in high frequencies, this despite being placed next to CSUN, a prime population based on age. I don’t know the causes but I suspect that the heavy backpacks may add instability to the ride.
    I’m not sure I would use a scooter to pickup fast food, it could cause a mess inside the backpack, drinks would not be practical to transport, I don’t believe that Google maps plays a role.
    I’ve talked to the very few to no bicycle riders on the Reseda Blvd bicycle lanes as to why they don’t use them more often. They consistently tell me they don’t feel safe because those Reseda bike lanes run very close to traffic, if a bicyclist or a scooter operator leaned left too much, they would become a street fixture.
    Time and again, the community has complained to the Mayor’s office, the Councilman’s office, asking that the lanes be removed as they are not being utilized, these lanes take away the opportunity to transport more people by bus on what is a congested corridor, the METRO “rapid” 744 never gets to be rapid due to 3 lanes of traffic being narrowed to 2 due to the bicycle lanes.
    I have been advocating for the E Bikes that METRO has rolled out, my thought was that Limebikes were used far more than the scooters when they were around here, the problem was that they were left everywhere, and residents and disabled people were up in arms.
    The E Bikes offer the opportunity that some of us who are beyond 25 years of age could use the product as it inspires more ride stability and safety.
    Then again,who listens to someone who’s been around beyond 25 years in the community and has used mass transportation and bicycling extensively ?

    The undersigned member of Friends of Northridge Academy High School, the Northridge East Neighborhood Council Education Committee, 42 year Northridge resident.

  2. The San Fernando Valley is the perfect example of a place where short trips — to pick up to-go at El Pollo Loco? To hang out at the park or go swimming? To pick up a few items at Target? Maybe even *gasp* to get to work — could easily be made by bike or scooter. And it’s possible right now. The place is mostly flat and there are many, many quiet neighborhood streets that can be ridden with minimal exposure to traffic. Every time I ride there I am shocked that there are so few of us out there. Maybe it’s because Google maps etc route bike riders onto the main drags (WHY??!!) or maybe because drivers, with their windshield perspective, can’t imagine the grid the way I do from my bike. Their loss.

    There are gaps, it’s not perfect, but still: it can be lovely, and so much better than being stuck in a car, even on a hot day.

  3. “could” but they won’t. The reason for that in the San Fernando Valley is its geography, 260 square miles of far away points of interest and employment being an average of 10 miles or more for most citizens.

    Please quit selling this Amsterdam vision, drink a dose of reality.

    Lastly, get ebikes, as those of us over the age of 30 would use, but we would never entertain the scooters.

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