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Survey: One quarter of Seattle adults ride bikes

A recent statistically-valid phone survey shines some light on who is bicycling in Seattle, and shows some common barriers that keep people from cycling more.

The biggest number that jumped out at me: About 24 percent* of Seattle adults ride bikes a few times or more per year.  13 percent ride bikes a few times or more per month. 5 percent of Seattle adults bike nearly every day.

The US Census American Communities Survey shows that 3.6 percent of people in Seattle biked as their primary mode of getting to work in 2010. So this survey shows that far more people use bikes regularly for non-work trips and recreation.

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The biggest barrier to cycling by far is step #1: Access to a working bike. Only 40 percent* of Seattle adults has access to a working bicycle, and white people are far more likely (43 percent) to have access to one than non-white people (30 percent). This 40 percent number is a significant drop compared to 2011 (49 percent of respondents said they had access to a working bike), and the reason for the drop is not clear (statistical anomaly?).

This is a huge argument in favor of bike share, which provides dependable access to working bicycles.

While men are slightly more likely to have access to a working bike than women (43 percent to 37 percent), they are twice as likely to ride it regularly. 18 percent of men bike several times a month or more, compared to 9 percent of women.

Of those who bike regularly, two-thirds bike primarily for recreation, while one-third bike to get to destinations.

Did you think that the majority of people bike primarily on trails, like the Burke-Gilman? Wrong. The most commonly-used facility type are neighborhood streets (a strong argument for neighborhood greenways!) followed by busy streets with bike lanes, then trails.

This is also a good argument for more on-street bicycle facilities in general. After all, trails can’t go everywhere.

Other than access to a bike, safety concerns are the biggest non-weather barriers to more cycling. More protected bike facilities and neighborhood greenways are among the best tools we have to remove this barrier.

The weather concerns suggests that bike advocates could do more to teach people what to wear in a typical Seattle drizzle. Perhaps we could also host a fender-installation and rain gear/fashion event of some kind.

You can see the full survey report below or download the raw data from the SDOT website.

Bicycle Survey 2012 for Web

* I calculated these numbers based on the survey’s result that 40 percent of Seattle residents have access to a working bike. So if 59 percent of people with access to a working bike said they bike several times a year or more, that means 23.6 percent of Seattle residents bikes. However, the “access to a bike” number seems volatile. Since last year’s survey found 49 percent of adults had access to a bike, that would mean 29 percent of people biked in 2011. I doubt there was such a significant drop in bicycling, and suspect that either the 2011 or 2012 number is off. We’ll have to wait until next year to see which one is more accurate.

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25 responses to “Survey: One quarter of Seattle adults ride bikes”

  1. I’m confused by how people lack “access to a working bike.” Do people really lack the ability to save $50, walk to the local library, and get on craigslist to buy themselves a used bike? Or at Bikeworks, where teens can earn a bike for half that price?

    Am I being insensitive and blinded by my personal lot in life, or is there something I fail to grasp? These are honest questions, and I’m not trying to put down the people who claim they lack access to a working bike. I’d love to see 100% of people cycling; rich or poor, young or old, any color skin.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      “access” to a working bike in this case means that there is already one at their home they can use if they wish (that’s my understanding). Obviously, anyone with enough cash has access to buying a bike, but that’s not what the question is asking.

      Obtaining and maintaining a working bicycle requires 1: Time, 2: Money, 3: A teacher (be it a friend, a class, youtube videos, etc).

      It’s not that these obstacles are impossible to overcome for the truly determined and/or monied. But Bike Works can’t take care of the whole city (though they try!). The population of Seattle is 621k+, which means 248,000 people have access to a working bike (assuming childhood ownership levels are the same as those for adults. I bet they are actually higher). That’s a lot of working bikes!

      But that also means that 372,000 people do not have access to a working bike. A used bike in good shape purchased from a shop is going to run $250-300 easily (obviously, there are ways to find bikes cheaper if you are savvy). And, of course, there aren’t 300,000 of them. If someone is scared to ride in traffic or is already buried in car bills/rent, this is a big chunk of money. Then, once it breaks, it may take a while to get it repaired for whatever reason (money, time, bike shop intimidation, no nearby shop, etc).

      DC’s bike share system has encouraged a lot of people to go ahead and buy their own bikes, preferring the convenience of parking at home, etc. But it wasn’t until they had working bikes readily available that they got into the habit of cycling. I would expect this to happen in Seattle, as well.

      1. Kirk from Ballard

        Obtaining and maintaining a working bicycle requires: 1. A desire to have a bicycle.
        I would imagine for the vast majority of people without a bike, they have no desire to own one. So I’m not sure if this an argument at all for a bike share system.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        Well, I agree that a lot of the people without access to a bike don’t want one.

        But I think a lot of people would bike if one were just sitting there for them to use (though they wouldn’t go out an buy one, at least not until they learn that they love it!). The biggest barrier to biking is mental, and people are scared/nervous to even give it a shot.

      3. doug

        I know plenty of people who simply stop riding when they get a flat. Without the desire to ride, even the most simple of repairs are too much.

        I’ve seen such bikes parked outside my work for months and months until naught is left but a rusted frame. Recently a bike was locked outside for weeks, unridden. The owner only managed to care when it finally got stolen.

      4. The potential bike-share would really help the “access” barrier to entry. It’s pretty much like a zip car for bikes which would be pretty cool. Only thing is that the Seattle Times said that this kind of thing would cost over $1 million for 500 bikes. Still a cool idea though.

  2. […] the original post: Survey: One quarter of Seattle adults ride bikes | Seattle Bike Blog This entry was posted in Blog Search and tagged access, bicycle, bike, cycling, people, percent, […]

  3. Kirk from Ballard

    This study also affirms my feelings that residential streets are preferred for biking. I’m sure those same riders would ride instead on trails, if more were available. I think trails rank last merely because of their scarcity. This also affirms my belief that striping a bike lane or sharrows on an arterial, if a parallel residential street is available, is a waste. For instance, 24th Ave. NW in Ballard. Why would anyone climb up the hill on a bike lane on this arterial, with 40 MPH traffic, when they could move over a block, and climb up the residential street. For me, the money should be invested in key residential streets and signed as the bike route. Install circles and stop or yield signs for cross traffic. And don’t get me started on the bike lanes installed on 20th Ave. NW. The bike lane to nowhere…

    1. basketlover

      I prefer streets like 24th because there are stop signs for cross traffic.

      1. Kirk from Ballard

        I bet you would like 22nd, if there were stop signs for cross traffic. While climbing, the cross traffic is mostly irrelevant anyway.

      2. It’s not just that the cross-side streets have stop signs, it’s that when you reach a cross-arterial there will be a light to get you across (and its timings will be vastly more favorable than if you were crossing on a side street). It’s that visibility with cross-streets isn’t terrible. It’s that the street won’t jog or end in random places, forcing you to memorize or write down more turns.

        For many trips the most direct route involves arterials; many arterials have the best pavement in their area; almost all businesses are on arterials (so most of your work and shopping happens there), and so are many residences, especially multi-family dwellings. I love neighborhood greenways and frequently avoid arterials (especially those with poorly-designed bike markings) but they don’t work for everything.

    2. basketlover

      Thanks Al! Yes to the signalized crossings, so much easier. Yes to the business aspect.

      Side street traffic controls are ignored or marginalized in our current times.

      There are times when I don’t want to screw around playing bicycle and just need to get where I am going.

      I pay into our system and I want to use the whole system, not the one a couple of blocks over.

  4. sean

    I agree with Al. Greenways are awesome for certain things e.g. biking uphill at slow speed, biking anywhere for a new rider. I would argue arterial cycling is far safer for downhill and higher speed cycling for side street controls and lights.

  5. Kirk from Ballard

    Back to the study, those that “ride a few times a year or more” are more comfortable riding on the residential side streets. Sure, we strong cyclists are comfortable on arterials, even without bike lanes. But the majority of bikers, the casual biker, evidently prefers the residential street. That’s why it appears to me as if the investments should be made to make those streets safer and more bikable, addressing all of the valid reasons you have for not riding those streets.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I mostly agree with you. Protected bikeways and neighborhood greenways should be the focus of our funding. Bike lanes might be OK to close certain key gaps in the network, but they shouldn’t be the norm.

      On the other hand, bike lanes cost maybe a 1/3 (or less) of what neighborhood greenways cost, and they dramatically improve the environment for people on foot (a lot of the “bad” bike lanes in Seattle are really pedestrian projects that LOOK like bike projects). I assume walking improvements were a big driver behind 20th Ave NW, for example.

      1. Kirk from Ballard

        I agree. I think bike lanes make most sense when there are no other close alternatives, like downtown.
        I think improving residential streets doesn’t have to be to the full extent of a greenway. Designate a bike route street, put in stop signs for all cross traffic, make any arterial crossings easier with a clearly defined crosswalk and easy bike access to this crosswalk.
        I get what you’re saying about the walking improvements, moving bikes off the sidewalk, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case on 20th Ave NW. I think that one was just an easy target for the SDOT to rack up a few more mileage points for bike lanes; an underused four lane street that essentially dead ends at Salmon Bay Park. It was already an easy bike route.

  6. […] Bike ownership and usage in Seattle. […]

  7. Lack Thereof

    On “Access to a Working bike” – there’s the other reason. I can go out and buy a bike but I cannot keep it for long before it is stolen. Unless you have a secure indoor storage space (and those of us in smaller apartments often do not), it’s unlikely that you will be able to hang on to a bicycle for more than 6 months, no matter what kind of lock you use.

    After my 4th replacement bike, I gave up. I walk, drive, or ride the bus.

  8. Chris

    I don’t think based on the data you can lump in access to a bike with other barriers. They were never asked “if they had, say $500, would buying a bike and riding gear be the priority?” I think a very small percentage of those without bikes would say yes to that question. Most people just don’t want to. It still has a fringe connotation to it coupled with weather and safety concerns. Safe bike routes are key. When more of someone’s peers ride, they are more likely to consider it. If you build it, they will ride.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I agree with you (though you can get a working bike for much less than $500, your point is still valid). This is why I think bike share is such a big deal. For $5 you can check out a bike to get where you’re going, and you can keep checking them out for the whole day (in 30 minute increments).

      Nearly everyone can spare $5 for a day’s worth of transportation. And if someone finds biking to be a good option for their lives, they may very well see it worthy to invest in one of their own (or thy might just keep using public bikes). Either way, there are more people on bikes, and biking for transportation is more affordably in reach.

  9. […] Lake Washington and Interlaken Boulevards), there was one bicycle for every five Seattle residents. A recent SDOT survey found that two out of every five Seattle residents has access to a working bicycle today. While we have a […]

  10. […] morning, but I held out to try to make sense of why some of these numbers appear to differ from a 2012 SDOT survey we wrote about recently. For example, the city survey found that only 40 percent of those surveyed said they had access to […]

  11. B

    It’s mostly cultural I think. This isn’t some asain city where everyone bicicles or uses scooters to get around. The norm is more car oriented, so unless you work at some wierd place like Google where people ride camels or what not to work, it’s not going to catch on unless the culture changes

  12. […] “pedestrians,” etc. But that’s a pointless and distracting conversation to have. One in four Seattle adults rides a bike at some point every year. And most people who bike also drive at some point every year. And everyone is a […]

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