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Commute Time

According to the U.S. Census, about 61% of Bloomington workers drove alone as their primary mode of transportation for commuting to work in 2011. Meanwhile, around 9% relied on carpooling, 17% on walking, and 5% each on bicycling and public transportation.

Bloomington Commute Mode (2000) Bloomington Commute-to-Work Mode Choice, 2011 1

Compared to 1990, the percentage of commuters driving alone increased by 5%. During the same period, walking and public transportation declined as primary modes of transportation by around 16% and 17%, respectively, while carpooling declined by 12%. On the other hand, bicycling increased by 32% and the portion of workers working at home or using other means increased by 15%.

Bloomington Commute Mode (2011) Bloomington Commute-to-Work Mode Choice, 2000 2

Relative to the 2000 numbers, the population of Bloomington has increased by about 4.3%, while the percentage of commuters driving alone has decreased by about 6%. During the same period, the percentage of those walking and taking public transportation as primary modes of transportation increased by around 2% each, while carpooling increased by 1.3%. Bicycling increased by 2.5%, while the portion of those working at home or using other means decreased by 1% 1, 2.

Multi-City Commute Mode (2011) Commute-to-Work Mode Choice in Several Midwestern Cities, 2011 1

Impressively, Bloomington ranks 2nd overall for cities with populations larger than 65,000 in terms of percentage of commuters who walk or bike to work. When walking is considered alone, Bloomington ranks 3rd overall, and when biking is considered alone, Bloomington ranks 18th overall 3.

In the whole of Indiana, 83.6% of workers reported driving alone as their primary means of transportation for their work commute. Other cities in Indiana, such as Lafayette, Muncie, and South Bend also had higher rates of workers commuting by driving alone: 76%, 72% and 80%, respectively. Bloomington also had higher rates of public transportation use, walking, and bicycling compared to these cities, but was on the low end of carpooling rates 3.

Four other Midwestern college towns similar to Bloomington-Ann Arbor, MI, Champaign, IL, Madison, WI, and Iowa City, IA-had similar percentages of their working population commuting to work by driving alone: 59%, 62%, 66%, and 57% respectively. Among these similar cities, Bloomington has the highest percentage of commuters walking to work, and among the highest bicycling rates 3.

Bicycling as a Mode of Alternative Transportation

Though the majority of Bloomington residents still drove alone to work in 2011 (60.8%), Bloomington bicycle commute rates (5.2%) compare favorably with Monroe County as a whole, which experienced only 3.2% of its working population biking to their jobs. It is reasonable to assume that Bloomington has the highest level of bike use in the state of Indiana, where only 0.5% of residents used a bicycle as their regular means of commute in 2011. Additionally, Bloomington ranked highest among other Midwestern cities housing large universities; a few cities found numbers of residents commuting by bike that were close to Bloomington's 5.2% figure-4.7% in Madison, Wisconsin; 4.9% in Ann Arbor, Michigan; 2.9% in Champaign, Illinois; and 4.1% in Iowa City, Iowa 3.

It is worth noting some of the limitations of the U.S. Census data that may affect the usefulness in its reported figures. The Census form only requests information about the primary mode of transportation to work to generate its commuter statistics, which may not account for those who bicycle to work only a few days out of the week. Social and recreational rides are also unrepresented, as well as those who may bike to another mode of transportation (for example, those who bike to a public transit station) 4.

Besides the Census data, commuting studies have also been conducted by Indiana University. Bloomington's student population is one of the most likely groups to bike to work, due to general age, health, and financial means. Given the transience of this demographic (a sizable chunk of the city), student travel patterns may not be accurately accounted for by the census data. However, a 2008 survey of IU students, faculty and staff conducted by Michael Steinhoff and Julie Harpring found that about 45% of respondents drive alone to campus, while 22% walk, 5% bike, about 7% carpool and 15% take the bus. This survey found the predominant deterrent for cycling was the lack of safe routes to campus, and identified other potential areas for improvement 5. When the data is broken down to consider students, faculty and staff separately, it is evident that staff bicycling rates are much lower lower; only 2.5% of staff used bicycles to get to work, while 81.8% drove alone. Seven percent of faculty, however, reported biking to work as their primary mode of transportation, although 80.2% of faculty also reported driving alone 5.

Since the 2001 adoption of the City of Bloomington's Alternative Transportation & Greenways System Plan, the City has directed roughly $500,000 a year toward the development of a bicycle and pedestrian network running through the city. In 2011, the City of Bloomington had a total of 86 miles of bike infrastructure including bike lanes, sharrows, bike routes, hard surface paths, soft surface paths, and mountain bike trails, as well as plans in place for a total of 185 miles of bike facilities in the future, with the largest increases coming in hard surface paths, bike routes and bike lanes. The City has also installed bike racks in the downtown area in growing numbers-20 new bike racks were installed in 2012, 20 more are planned in both 2013 and 2014, and an additional 25 new racks are planned for both 2015 and 2016 in city-wide locations. In total, over 150 bike hoops have been installed in Bloomington 6.

For these and other improvements in its bike network, Bloomington earned the status of Bicycle Friendly Community at the Silver Level, awarded by the League of American Bicyclists. Certification was first awarded to Bloomington in 2003 at the Bronze Level, and the Silver Level was first achieved in 2010. In 2010, the Bloomington Common Council passed Resolution 10-10: Bloomington Platinum Biking Task Force, and announced its plan to achieve the Platinum Level status by 2016 6, 7. The Task Force outlines how increasing bicycling rates will improve the quality of life in Bloomington, as well as promote healthy lifestyles, environmental harmony and economic resiliency, and also creates a plan to improve bicycling facilities. The Task Force recommends many actions to help the City of Bloomington improve their bicycling rates, using to the League of American Bicyclists "Five E's" for bicycle friendly communities-Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation & Planning-as guidelines. This plan includes increased bicycling infrastructure such as improved bike parking, bikeways, and bike trail markings, as well as education and outreach to all sectors of the community in the form bike safety classes for elementary students through adults, bicycle-centered events, and public service announcements.

Communities consistently favor transport based on ease and availability. See, for case in point, the near doubling in ridership on Bloomington Transit buses and record high passengers on IU Campus Buses since both services became free for students (detailed in the BEQI Public Transportation section). Correlation between bike facilities and cycling is also well documented. After the City of Portland, Oregon expanded its bike network from 85 miles to over 300 miles (at a cost of approximately $60 million, the rough equivalent of constructing one mile of a modern urban freeway), instituted neighborhood rides, established a community cycling center, and made other bike-friendly improvements, biking increased as a mode share from only about 2% in 1996 to about 8% in 2008 8. Similarly, the extensive bicycle network in Madison, Wisconsin-consisting of 47 miles of street bike facilities, 42 miles of bike paths and trails, and 114 miles of signed bike routes-has led the city to be named one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the nation, with bicycles serving as primary mode of transportation for 8% of the population over the age of 18 8. The state of Indiana increased it's funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities by 76% over the period 1999-2012; hopefully this will translate into greater bicycle commuting numbers in the coming years 9.

Bloomington residents, at least, have demonstrated their desire to bicycle. In a public survey about local transportation, 57 out of 62 respondents said they would bike more if bicycle facilities were more abundant and convenient. If such conditions were available, 39 out of 49 said they would drive less 10. Though biking in Bloomington has continued to increase in Bloomington over the years, the city still has the need to increase use of sustainable transportation. Single occupant car trips still compose the vast majority of commutes to work and class. Many of the single-occupant car trips taken in Bloomington could be replaced by other forms of transportation. Of IU employees with parking passes, 70% live within 5 miles of campus 11. Among students, 56% live within 1 mile of campus, while 95% live within 6 miles 12.

The frequency of small distance car trips reflects a broader national tendency. In the United States, 40% of trips are 2 miles or less, 80% of which are made by car. Twenty eight percent of trips are 6 miles or shorter, 57% of which are made by car. Half of American workers commute within 5 miles of home. Such short distance car trips are particularly wasteful and damaging to the environment, as 60% of polluting emissions are released during the first few minutes of an automobile's operation, while the engine is warming up; about 238 million gallons of gas are saved each year by replacing car trips with bike rides 12. Using bicycles instead of automobiles for short trips is healthier, better for the environment, and often not as difficult as some might think.

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There are a variety of ways to increase bicycling in Bloomington. First and foremost is the personal decision to ride a bicycle instead of taking a car when distance, weather, and health allow. Beyond the level of individual transportation choice, all efforts must be made on behalf of the City, IU, developers, and employers to foster an environment encouraging and conducive to bicycling.

Traffic improvements are a basic means to strengthen a bicycle network, and have been undertaken by the City of Bloomington through the installation of bike racks, marking bicycle lanes, signed routes, and other improvements directed by the Alternative Transportation & Greenways Plan. Some communities have adopted unconventional traffic changes to encourage bicycling, such as designating certain streets for bikes only and installing separate traffic lights at intersections to allow cyclists to move before automobiles 14, 15. Employers may also offer incentives to encourage their workers to commute by bicycle. Options range from installing on-site bicycle parking to awarding "commuter of the month" prizes to paying employees not to acquire a parking pass. These and many other options are discussed in more depth in the Alternative Transportation & Greenways Plan and the Campus Sustainability Report 10, 12.

Land use and development play a crucial role in shaping the transportation options for a community, and bicycle accessibility should be an important consideration. Some incentives for bicycle-friendly development already exist in the City's Unified Development Ordinance, while others are emerging as the community increasingly embraces green building as a mode of development 16. While Bloomington has made great progress in improving its bicycle infrastructure, parts of town are still difficult to access by bicycle. The College Mall on the east side of town, the far west side, and the areas north of 12th Street all prove hard to reach for cyclists. The City of Bloomington dedicates $500,000 each year to the development of its bicycle and pedestrian network, and the 2008 Update to the Alternative Transportation & Greenways System Plan identifies and prioritizes areas for improved accessibility.

A number of other entities within the City of Bloomington deal with bicycle related issues. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission develops programs for bike safety, acts as a citizen's forum for matters associated with cycling, and makes recommendations to the Mayor, City Council, and Public Works regarding bicycle and pedestrian issues 17. The City of Bloomington Planning Department also employs a Transportation Planner who focuses specifically on bicycle and pedestrian issues.

The IU Task Force on Campus Sustainability's Campus Sustainability Report also contains a number of recommendations to expand bicycle infrastructure on campus, including the development of "a comprehensive plan that would include improved bike routes within and to campus, more bicycle racks and garages, and better delineation of bike routes on campus" 12. The report also proposed a bicycle education program.

The Bloomington Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission meets on the first and third Monday of every month at 5:30 PM in the Hooker Conference Room at City Hall, 401 N. Morton Street 17. Comments and suggestions about Bloomington's bicycle network can be directed to the City Transportation Planner.

Direct comments about Indiana University bicycle infrastructure to IU Parking Operations, (812) 855-9848. Parking Operations maintains a website with information, resources, and safety advice here.

Commute Time

In addition to mode choice, the amount of time spent commuting is important from an environmental standpoint. Increased commute times suggests higher levels of traffic or commutes to farther distances, which in turn means increased pollution and gas consumption.

Based on the 2011 American Consumer Survey, the average Bloomington worker commutes an average of 14.9 minutes to their workplace. This figure has remained surprisingly constant over the period 2000-2011. More than half of Bloomington workers reported spending between 10 and 19 minutes getting to work daily (Figure 4). Among the remaining population, 20% enjoyed commutes less than 10 minutes, 16% commuted 20 to 29 minutes, and the remaining 9% commuted more than 30 minutes.

Bloomington Commute to Work Time (2000, 2011) Bloomington Commute Time, 2000-2011 1. 2

Between 2000 and 2011, the percentage of workers who commuted less than 10 minutes declined by 10%. Meanwhile, the portion of workers with commutes between 20 to 34 minutes increased by 8%, which was partially offset by a 2% reduction in the percent of commutes longer than 35 minutes.


Commute-to-work data is collected every ten years by the U.S. Census Bureau from the census "long form." The long form of the census is filled out by about one out of every six households, and the results are extrapolated to the entire population.

The most significant concern related to the census long form sample for Bloomington is that residents living in group housing (e.g., dorms, fraternity houses, prisons) are not included in the sample 2. This has the effect of skewing the results towards single-family dwellings.

Another shortcoming is that the long form asks respondents how they usually get to and from work, allowing for only a single response. For example, if a person drives alone to work three days per week and uses public transportation on the other two days, they would be included in the "drove alone" category. Similarly, the census does not account for people who combine modes (e.g., riding a bike or walking to the public transit stop). For these reasons, it is likely that the modes used less often or only during certain times of the year are underrepresented.

Changes in city boundaries also limit our ability to draw precise conclusions from census data. As Bloomington expands into Monroe County, the transportation habits of residents in more rural or suburban areas disproportionately influence the trends reported by the census. For example, if workers in annexed areas rely more heavily on single-passenger automobile use, the trend for Bloomington will tend to indicate increased auto use, even if this mode's popularity has remained constant in the city's core areas. Similarly, gains in bicycling, walking, and public transportation would be understated if these modes are not utilized in annexed areas.

Despite the shortcomings of the census, lifestyle choices, increasing per capita car ownership, and real changes in transportation mode use probably have a larger influence on the results shown above. Based on the data available, it is clear that Bloomington and Monroe County residents' transportation habits are somewhat less harmful for the environment compared to the rest of Indiana. On the other hand, data from cities with comparable population sizes and demographics demonstrate that improvements could be made. In particular, there appears to be some potential for improvement in public transportation ridership and carpooling.


Variations in commuting mode across cities suggest that people respond to transportation incentives. For example, Bloomington has made substantial investments in bicycling and walking facilities over the last several years (bike lanes, sidepaths, sidewalks, etc.). These investments may be partly responsible for Bloomington's relatively high levels of non-motorized transportation. Educational tools and promotion of alternative transportation options can also be used to encourage environmentally friendly transportation options. As Bloomington continues to invest in alternative transportation infrastructure and education, these options will likely constitute a greater portion of commute mode shares.

Comparisons with other cities suggest that carpooling and public transportation would be good candidates for targeted improvements. Policies to encourage carpooling at I.U. and other high priority destinations would probably be well received, judging by the relatively low levels of carpooling currently. Higher gas prices might also encourage people to switch to environmentally friendly options.

For More Information

Transportation-related data for Bloomington is also available through the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability's transportation indicator page and in BCOS' STAR report.


1. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey. "Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics: 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates for Bloomington, Indiana." Last accessed 10 January 2013.
2. U.S. Census Bureau, 2000. "Journey to Work: Census 2000 Summary File 3." Last accessed 17 January 2013.
3. U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey. "Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics: 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates" Last accessed 22 January 2013.
4. U.S Census Bureau, American Community Survey. "Population: Questions on Place of Work and Journey to Work." Last accessed 24 January 2013.
5. Steinhoff, M. and Harpring, J. "Transportation and Sustainability on the Indiana University, Bloomington Campus." August 2008. Last accessed 24 January 2013.
6. Bloomington Platinum Bicycle Task Force. "Breaking Away: Journey to Platinum" November 30 2011. Last accessed 24 January 2013.
7. Bloomington Common Council. Resolution 10-10: To Create a Task Force to Recommend How the City Can Achieve a Platinum Designation From the League of American Bicyclists' Bicycle Friendly Communities Program by 2016. Last accessed 24 January 2013.
8. Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. Adopted 11 February 2010. Last accessed 29 January 2013.
9. US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration: Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. "Federal-Aid Highway Program Funding for Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities and Programs." Last updated 11/7/2012. Last accessed 29 January 2013
10. City of Bloomington. "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation & Greenways System Plan." March 2008. Last accessed 31 January 2013.
11. Indiana University Task Force on Campus Sustainability. "Campus Sustainability Report." January 2008. Last accessed 31 January 2013.
12. Indiana University Task Force On Campus Sustainability. "Campus Sustainability Report Appendix VII-C." 2008. Last accessed 31 January 2013.
13. American League of Bicyclists. "Ride for the Environment." Last accessed 31 January 2013.
14. Presto. "Give Cycling a Push Implementation Fact Sheet: Traffic Light Intersections." Last accessed 31 January 2013.
15. Illinois Bureau of Design and Management Manual. "Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations." December 2002. Last accessed 31 January 2013.
16. City of Bloomington Planning Department. "Unified Development Ordinance." Amended December 2010. Last accessed 31 January 2013.
17. Bloomington Bicycle and Safety Commission. Last accessed 31 January 2013.