NEWS ANALYSIS

Welcome to Data Download: an occasional series on growth in the Treasure Valley, and the numbers behind the trends. This is the first in a series.

The overwhelming majority of Ada and Canyon County residents drive to work in a car, truck or van by themselves – and the numbers are little changed over recent years. That’s according to newly updated data from the American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau.

Source: American Community Survey 

In Ada County, 81% of all workers over the age of 16 drive alone to work.  In Canyon County, 78% of folks drive alone. Both counties are higher than the national average of 76.4%

Boise has been touted as a strong place for cycling, but the ACS data shows only about 1.7 percent of Ada Co. workers ride their bike to work. That percentage is actually down from 2009, the earliest year available, when 2.1% used pedal power to commute.

Source: American Community Survey

Those numbers are strong compared to Canyon County, where less than 1% bike to work.

In 2C, carpooling is a relatively popular option – with 11.5% of workers grabbing a ride with someone else. That beats the national average of 9.3%. Ada County sees a much lower number of 7.6%.

Public transportation use is nearly non-existent across both counties according to ACS.  Less than half a percent of workers used public transit in Ada County, and just .25% did so in Canyon – numbers that have fallen off since 2009. Nationally about 5% use public transit.

The data shows the cart-and-horse problem the metro area faces for alternative modes of transportation. With more and more people moving in, the demand for traditional car travel lanes increases. That nagging feeling you have that traffic is getting worse? It’s backed by the data.

Between the two counties, the Census said 278,352 people travelled to work in 2017, up from 243,782 in 2009. That is an increase of 14% in just eight years. And since public transit and cycling ratios aren’t going up – that means more cars on the road.

ValleyRide’s bus system is underfunded and generally lacks frequency and expansive services times. Hopes to boost service through a local option tax remain just hopes for now. Cycling to work can be aided by improved infrastructure like bike lanes and bikeways – but the area’s climate will remain a challenge (heat in the summer, cold and ice in the winter).

Don has been covering news in Boise for 20 years. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

10 COMMENTS

  1. No surprises here. Unfortunately public transit in Ada and Canyon counties either doesn’t exist anywhere close to where you live, or it’s not a viable option. For most people driving is the only choice there is. The problem will only get worse. As far back as 25 or 30 years ago it was easy to see that something needed to be done to improve public transit in the area but nothing ever gets done.

  2. I moved here 5 years ago from Minneapolis and I was shocked when I took the bus to work, it was empty. I was also surprised that when I told people I took the bus they asked if I didn’t have a drivers license or I couldn’t afford a car, it was hilarious and sad at the same time. The mind set on public transportation in this state is very strange to say the least.

  3. Aggregating at the county level makes the result inevitable and can lead to faulty conclusions. The majority of Ada county is built in a way that makes car commuting mandatory. Alternatives are only really an option for folks who both live and work in the east half of Boise. It would be much more informative to look at this breakout for those who have an option.

  4. Cycle to work only if you are suicidal or can use the Greenbelt exclusively to and from your place of employment.

  5. Transportation options follow development patterns…. surprise, surprise.

    Always disheartening when presented with the data confirming the empirical evidence I see every day that I turn on to the greenbelt from Garden Street on the Bench where the stop and go 184 connector in full sight is loaded with single occupant automobiles.

  6. Has the money invested in bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, green bikes, and CCDC garage bike parking been wasted? Bike usage has dropped, not increased. Looks like failed policy for Boise City.

  7. Data shows biking and walking increases exponentially where there is good transit. They are interdependent. Transit investment will drive an improvement in development patterns that creates more options and maximizes use of current infrastructure for many modes.
    In the meantime, before we have the financing tools for good transit, should we consider the three empty seats in a car to be unused capacity? So that before we build another lane for single occupancy vehicles, part of that unused capacity should be filled first? The cost to taxpayers to build (and even more, to maintain) that extra lane is huge. Perhaps a trigger that when the average number of trips with just one person in a car drops to, say 60% or 50% then we can consider taxing people to pay for another lane?
    Currently, without robust transit and without considering unused capacity of what we have, we are exceeding the taxpayers ability to keep paying to maintain the single occupancy vehicle system.

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