I read an interesting post today on TheWashCycle via Streetsblog.net. Follow the links, and you eventually get to an article from Vancouver, BC discussing what they can learn about bicycling from Portland, Oregon:
Portland’s Bicycle Brilliance
And what Vancouver can learn to create a self-propelled culture.
By Christine McLaren, 4 Aug 2009, TheTyee.ca
…In the early 2000s, [Portland bicycle coordinator] Geller sat in his office in the Portland department of transportation thinking hard about the demographic of bikers in the city. He developed a theory, later backed up by research at the Portland State University, that broke them into four separate groups.
On one end sits No Way No How, the one third of the population who has no interest in biking whatsoever. Maybe they’ll take a ride on a weekend through the park, but even in the best of conditions they probably won’t bike on a regular basis. They just don’t want to.
Then you have the Enthused and Confident, not quite kamakazis, but close. These are the roughly seven per cent of people who will bike in the city where it’s relatively safe, relatively comfortable, if not a little unnerving for the average person.
Above them, on the extreme end of the spectrum sit the Strong and Fearless, perched on their bikes in the pouring rain, in the middle of the street, ready to go. They represent almost nothing, maybe one per cent of the city’s population, the bike couriers and other kamakazis who will bike anywhere, anytime, now matter how dangerous or poor the conditions.
And everyone else? They’re the Interested but Concerned, the other 60 some-odd per cent of the population with a rational fear of cycling in the city. They like the idea of cycling, they know it’s good for their health, and for the environment, but they only want to do it if it’s as safe and comfortable as their ride in a car or bus. And these are the people that American cities, Portland and Vancouver included, need to aim their bike infrastructure at, Geller argues.
I highlight this article because I think it gets to the point of why bicycle facilities are important. Believe it or not, there are a lot of cycling advocates out there, presumably the Strong and Fearless kind, that seem to be almost entirely opposed to on-street bike facilities. Why would an avid cyclist oppose bike facilities? Well, they have a good reason, at least philosophically. They say that designating lanes for bikes or painting sharrows on a road reinforces motorists’ view that bikes belong in their own space and not sharing a traffic lane. By designating space for cyclists on some roads, it implies that all other roads are not for bikes. As an alternative to bike facilities, they advocate educating cyclists in the principles of vehicular cycling, and strictly enforcing laws.
I can appreciate this view. I certainly agree that education and enforcement are very important, and there are countless times that it is absolutely imperative to take a lane and assert your right to it as a cyclist/vehicle. So learning vehicular cycling principles is important. But is it enough to make a difference in the transportation mode share? Will it get bikes on the road?
If you look at the market segments, the answer is pretty clearly “No.” The problem with relying solely on vehicular cycling education and enforcement to get people to bike is that approximately 33% of people are in the No Way No How category and another 60% are Interested but Concerned about getting hit by cars. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rational fear or not. They’re not going to get out on the road without some perception that they are protected from cars. Even bike lanes may not be enough for a large percentage of the Interested but Concerned group. You’ll never get 93% of the population to take an LAB Course or read John Forrester’s book.
I would put myself in the Enthused and Confident category. I have no problem biking 15 miles one-way to work, and I don’t mind riding on relatively busy streets because I can maintain a speed of around 17 MPH, or even 20 MPH + with a good tailwind. On the other hand, I typically only do the bike commute once a week, I try to pick the day with the nicest weather, and I don’t do it in the winter. But even my lax bicycling schedule is too much for most people. It’s easy for me to forget that I am in a distinct minority.
If we design for people like me – which means creating a few good trails and a reasonably large number of bike lanes – we might be able to get 8% of the population to bike to work at least some of the time. That would be a huge improvement for almost any American city, but it’s still probably not enough to be considered “mainstream.” We have to design for the Interested but Concerned. Only then will we see double-digit bike mode shares in this country. If you make cycling difficult, people won’t do it. If you make it easy, they just might.