Survey Suggests People Don’t See Bikes As Transportation

The Urban Phoenix has begun a series of small “initial” single-question surveys through Google Surveys in an effort to gain and share knowledge with regard to how people perceive our cities today.  Note that the data below cannot be considered “statistically significant” (mostly due to a relatively small sample size) enough to make any formal conclusions, but we can make some basic assessments from the data results that might guide future research.

Last year, I wrote a piece hypothesizing that one of cycling’s biggest barriers is that it is not seen as a legitimate form of transportation, but rather a fitness or recreational outlet.  The idea that the country sees biking as a form of enjoyment or weight loss more than a way to practically move about our communities gives us a clearer picture as to why bike safety, infrastructure and innovation seems to be met with constant roadblocks.  When we see bikes as recreational devices, we have less of a motive to take them seriously as vehicles of growth and movement.

I conducted a “quick and dirty” Google Survey with 200 random subjects in The United States and asked the question, “What Statement Do You Agree With The Most?”

  1. Bicycles are great for getting in shape
  2. Bicycles are great for outdoor recreation
  3. Bicycles are great for transportation

The responses came back in the following percentages.

chart

While not entirely surprising, only 26% of those who responded thought that cycling was a good form of transit over the other two options.  This finding suggest that a large majority of our populations don’t see biking as anything more than a way to have fun or stay fit.  If true, this has tremendous implications for legislation, infrastructure and funding with regard to bicycles.

Think about it… if the average driver is “stuck” behind a cyclist on the road and believes that cyclist is just having fun or losing weight, he or she might feel that the rider doesn’t belong there and is simply causing traffic congestion for personal gain.

If a driver does see the cyclist as someone who is using the road as a legal means to a destination, the driver’s reaction might be different.

Furthermore, if our communities view cycling as recreational, there will be less of a desire to use taxpayer dollars to create infrastructure.  The need for a connected system of bike lanes and urban trails will be unlikely to see the light of day if the perception is that we are taking space away from cars and giving it to people to have a leisurely two-wheel stroll.  Until we see cycling as a legitimate form of transportation that can save our cities on infrastructure costs and traffic congestion in the long term, legislation for bicycle safety, traffic calming and bike infrastructure will continue to lag behind other developed nations.

The other interesting piece piece of the survey is the percentage of “Bicycles are great for transportation” responses by age group.chart (1)

If we combine the data from the 18-34 year old respondents and the 55+ respondents, 29.3% of this group said that bikes are great for transportation.  However, this percentage was only 14.6% of people ages 35-54.  The likely explanation for this difference is the presence school age children and the ever-growing need to drive them to activities such as sports or music practice.  As low as our perception that cycling can be a legitimate form of transit is, the thought that it might be a practical way to transport a family is likely nonexistent.  While Amsterdam in The Netherlands boasts that 25% of all families own “cargo bikes” to transport children, these machines are nearly impossible to find here in the United States.

The data from the above graph also shows the odd but understandable pattern we see with regard to movement back to our urban cores.  While millennials are often referenced as the motivator behind this trend, empty nesters are increasingly a part of this movement as well.  Young people and older people seem to be on the same page with regard to the revival of our urban centers, while family-aged Americans are still grappling with the reality that the only choice to safely and easily raise children is in the suburbs.

While not a large enough sample size to be statistically significant, this data suggests that the extremely low opinion of bikes as transportation devices in the U.S. may be a big reason our cities are slow to adopt legitimate cycling infrastructure and robust safety standards.  Further research needs to be conducted with regard to this issue, but the data presented here supports the belief that a tremendous amount of advocacy and education with regard to cycling still needs to be done in our communities.