May 9 9:19 AM

The ride to the top

A man uses a Capital Bikeshare during rush hour in downtown Washington, D.C. in 2013
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Your own two feet may be the great equalizers in a nation with a widening wealth and education gap.

Both the most educated and wealthiest American workers and the least educated and poorest are more likely to ride their bikes or walk to work, according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of people who pedaled to work (786,000) jumped 60 percent in the last decade while the number who walked (3.4 million) remained stable.

“Bike commuting declines as incomes go up,” said Brian McKenzie, a Census Bureau sociologist and author of the report. “It’s only when you reach the top-earner categories that you see it rising again. It has a lot to do with the fact that those people [the top earners] are largely concentrated in metropolitan areas — New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. — that also happen to be quite walk-able and bike-friendly cities.”

It’s likely that those with less education may be biking out of necessity while those who are more educated may do it out of social consciousness and for physical fitness.

Despite the surge in bike commuting, bicycling still accounts for a very small slice of the commuting pie: 0.6 percent. About 2.8 percent of the approximately 140 million workers walk to their jobs, most of them young.

Asians and those who report multiple races were more likely to walk, according to the latest Census American Community Survey, while whites are the least likely to walk to work. Hispanics and multiracials are more likely to hop on their bikes and bikers overall are more likely to be men.

The report says the increase in bike commuting could be attributed to more bike lanes, bike-sharing programs, employer incentives and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods — all part of community efforts to promote more energy-efficient modes of transportation.

Several college towns, including Ithaca, N.Y., and Athens, Ohio, showed high rates of walking.

Among the 50 largest cities, Portland, Ore., had the highest bicycle-commuting rate at 6.1 percent.

“The rate varies a lot by cities,” McKenzie said. “Some of the cities that increased the most – Portland and Minneapolis – are cities that also invested a lot in making them more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.”

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Any views expressed on The Scrutineer are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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