Don Harter rides his bike on his way to work at the MU power plant March 30 on Broadway near the Daniel Boone Regional Library. According to a 2010 August survey from GetAbout Columbia, 56 percent of Columbia respondents said they used some form transportation other than a motorized vehicle.

Most Columbia residents still drive to work alone

Sunday, April 17, 2011 | 11:02 a.m. CDT; updated 5:30 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — Don Harter is a creature of habit.

He lives 2.7 miles from the MU power plant where he works. He knows the exact distance because four years ago one of his friends gave him a bike odometer.

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Harter has been riding his bicycle to work almost every day for 34 years, working off the equivalent of 402 pounds of body fat during that time, he said.

“You find out it's just as convenient as driving a car, and a car gets horrible gas mileage driving in town,” Harter said. “And it’s good for your health. I’m 54. I don’t take any prescription medicines. I weigh the same as I did in high school.”

But, according to Census data, Harter is in the vast minority. Most Columbia residents are using automobiles to get to work.

Despite a concerted effort to encourage alternative transportation in Columbia, including a $22 million federal grant that funded GetAbout Columbia projects to encourage biking and walking, American Community Survey data indicate most people are driving, and they're doing it alone.

More than 38,000 people, or 74.9 percent of the city's labor force, still drive to work by themselves, according to data from 2005 to 2009.

Those numbers are down from 2000, when 75.2percent of the labor force commuted alone.

The lack of change in the number of private commuters occurred despite the GetAbout grant, which provided federal money for the city to promote carpooling, biking and walking in an attempt to decrease the amount of motorized transportation throughout Columbia.

GetAbout Columbia program manager Ted Curtis said the census doesn’t give a completely transparent representation of travel in Columbia.

“Sometimes in the census data, it’s a little harder to get the right information out of it for walking and biking areas,” he said. “It doesn’t show the total picture of transportation use in this area.”

Columbia was one of four metropolitan areas in the country to receive the grant in 2006 as part of the Federal Highway Administration's Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot program. The initiative spurred the development of 24 capital projects throughout the city as well as 32 intersection improvements, sidewalks, trail and bikeway projects and connectors to the MKT Trail.

Recent Census data, however, indicates the grant did little to facilitate alternative methods of transportation.

The Public Works Department conducted a telephone survey of 402 Columbia residents during the week of Aug. 2, 2010, regarding the GetAbout Columbia program.

Seventy-eight percent of responders said they drove to work alone, which is similar to the American Community Survey data.

Fifty-six percent of respondents reported that they use use some form of transportation other than a motorized vehicle at least occasionally, while 35.8 percent use alternate methods twice a week. 

The number of vehicles and bicycles per household also directly contributes to the method of transportation used.

About 193 of the 402 respondents reported there are two cars, vans or trucks at their household, and 38 percent reported they did not own any working bicycles.

Still, Curtis said he is seeing improvements in alternative transportation among Columbia residents.

“We’re showing increases in both areas,” Curtis said of walking and biking. “This is a long-term project. We’re projecting the next census count is what’s going to show the difference over the next 10 years.”

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Gregg Bush April 17, 2011 | 1:02 p.m.

Way to go, Don. People like you have made it easier, and inspire, people like me. I'm humbled and grateful when I reflect on whose shoulders I stand. I've been fortunate enough to commute by bicycle for the last 8 years - 5 of which in this city. I know several other co-workers that do the same.
I live 2.2 miles from work, by the way. We're a hearty minority.

(Report Comment)
fred smith April 17, 2011 | 3:07 p.m.

What was not mentioned in the story is the increase in gas prices between the 2000 and 2010 census. This increase in gas contributed as much to any perceived use of peds and pedals as any federal grant I’m sure. But, either way I’m paying for it or at least a part of it through higher taxes or greater fuel cost. I think I just heard the toilet upstairs flush.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 17, 2011 | 5:23 p.m.

There's no doubt that fuel and money can be saved by car pooling, particularly if the daily commute is the better part of 100 miles, round trip.

During my final years working for corporate America (as opposed to working for myself) four of us had a car pool involving a round trip of 80 miles per day or 400 miles per five-day work week. We used a system where a driver drove all week, rather than changing drivers every day or two days. Each driver paid for fuel the weeks he/she drove.

But keeping things straight was far from easy: I might be gone 1-2 weeks a month, whether inside of outside the country. Others had special commitments too.

At the time I was driving a Ford Crown Victoria sedan: same vehicle as Missouri State Troopers drive (but without the "interceptor" engine or the radar gun).

Even back in those days I wasn't quite up to riding my bicycle 80 miles to and from work. :)

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum April 18, 2011 | 11:15 a.m.

You made the choice to take a job working for 'corporate America', which entailed ferrying yourself about in a Crown Vic for 80+ miles a day. Part of the problem, but I guess you're probably special.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 18, 2011 | 11:48 a.m.

Ah, but that's the point (also made recently by other posters): We (those of us in that car pool - car pool does not = ferrying just yourself around) made a voluntary choice, and we were prepared to pay the monetary price of that choice.

The problem today is that people are making voluntary choices but are then expecting OTHERS to pay for those choices. That is one huge difference.

If you can't see that difference then there's no more to be said.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz April 18, 2011 | 12:51 p.m.

My word Ellis, you were part of coporate America? That must have been terrible?

I'm reminded of a Grassroots Organizing sign I saw across the road at Earth Day yesterday that said People Before Profits. Without profits, how could my employer have added me to their staff?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith April 18, 2011 | 2:36 p.m.

Yes, John Schultz, I was not only once part of corporate America but I'm not even repentant about it! I worked for four corporations altogether. One of them also had a transportation division, with something like 19 ore-carrying vessels plying the upper Great Lakes. One of those vessels was the ill-fated "Edmond Fitzgerald" (do you remember the popular song?). It was indeed a sad day in Cleveland, Ohio when the "Edmond Fitzgerald" and its entire crew was lost. :(

Well, John, landing that job wasn't really all that necessary; you can always pick twenty dollar bills off money trees. Just take care not to fall off the ladder. :)

(Report Comment)

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