Not sure why I’m writing about this subject. I have a deep skepticism of statistics and surveys; which can be quite energetic at times. I followed a link in a recent post on one of my favorite bicycle blogs: TheWashCycle. The link was to a survey done in 2002, titled National Survey of Pedestrian & Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors. Their particular interest was in the reasons why people don’t bicycle.
A quick review of the report left a very large “so what” bouncing around the echo chamber that is my mind. I was grousing to myself about the silliness of statisticians when I had a flash back to my senior thesis. After writing my paper and submitting it to my advisor, I was asked to make an oral presentation and defend my research and conclusions. The very last question was from my advisor who asked: ”so what and how would you follow-up this research?” I was prepared for the question and I think my answer solidified the “A” he gave me.
Sometimes research doesn’t answer any questions, it merely identifies paths for further inquiry.
And so it is with this survey report. For me it didn’t satisfy any questions but it made me ask a lot more. For this post I chose to look at why people don’t bicycle. I’ve been wrestling with the meaning and intent of “bicycle advocacy” recently and one of the major concerns of that advocacy is getting more people on bikes. There are huge societal benefits for increasing bicycle participation that I won’t belabor here. As somebody who doesn’t even think about getting on a bike and enjoy a wide range of riding purposes, I’m often confused by why other people don’t join in.
For what it’s worth, this survey opens a window to the
excuses reasons why. From the report:
Nearly three-fourths of those age 16 or older (72.1%) never rode a bicycle or had not done so during a 30-day period over the summer of 2002. This represents approximately 151 million individuals who did not bicycle.
The first problem I see is how that question was asked. Why a 30-day period? Why lump together people who never bicycle with people couldn’t or didn’t bicycle for an arbitrary time period? This is the first place that needs refinement and follow-up.
The second is the categories (responses). For example why is disability/health separate from age? What is it about age that limits ability to cycle?
And then there is the glaring category of “Other.” I’m always a little suspicious of general categories that are so large. What are these other things? The list of other reasons seems fairly comprehensive to me.
Finally, the most interesting result is “no safe place to ride.” Three percent of those surveyed. This seems out of line with other surveys. And it contradicts one of the most cherished beliefs of bicycle advocates: more people would bicycle if only it were safer.
- Lack of access to a bike. Over a quarter of the responses. This struck me as odd, being that bicycles–despite the best efforts of some parts of the industry–are affordable. Especially when compared to automobile ownership. It would interesting to see some drill down into this category.
- Is there a relationship between “don’t want to/don’t enjoy” and “don’t know how to ride.” I can understand the don’t what to part. It seems like the don’t enjoy might have overlap with the don’t know how. And is don’t enjoy really a no safe place response?
- Too busy/no opportunity. Seems like a lifestyle response related to infrastructure, sprawl (low density development) and car-centric planning. It also has some relationship to the safety thing.
- And then there is that troubling Other category.
These are just some of the questions that jumped out at me. Perhaps you can offer more. Perhaps you’ll just shrug your shoulders in a body language so what and go for a ride.