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.
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.”