Another Study Using the City Boundary, Another Missed Opportunity to Better Understand St. Louis

The P-D Building Blocks blog highlights an interesting, but really meaningless study about commuting. On the surface the numbers for St. Louis look good. The Bike Pittsburgh blog looked at the U.S. Census Bureau numbers and extracted the data regarding commuting for residents of the nation’s 60 largest cities. St. Louis is 30th in number of people commuting to work by bicycle, 19th for walkers, 17th for driving alone, 16th for the number of commuters using public transit and 10th when measuring the number of people who do not own a car.

This could falsely lead you to believe that St. Louis ranks relatively well regarding forms of commuting and is more progressive than other cities when it comes to biking and walking to work, not to mention car-free households. If this is your conclusion then you are wrong. As with the crime “studies” that purport to show St. Louis as one of the most dangerous cities in the nation, the numbers considered here only reflect St. Louis City residents.

Economically the City represents much of the poorer parts of our region. People walk, ride bikes or use public transit. No surprise there. The question is why won’t agencies, companies and other groups at least attempt to compare like urban areas? The answer is that it takes a lot of effort, time and ultimately money to do so. With the proper caveats the information can be considered, but the numbers in this case cannot lead us to action.

I’m a firm believer in best practices and relative improvement. If say, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis had twice as many people as St. Louis riding their bikes to work we would be able to look at that number, the infrastructure and other issues to better understand why. But here, St. Louis looks to be doing well. The numbers clearly mask a problem and prevent a true comparison. Whether or not there is ever a political merger of the St. Louis area, we should promote commonsense studies to reflect our region as it is.