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Survey: 30 percent of Seattle adults bikes, safety biggest reason holding people back

From a city survey. Results in this graph are limited to people with access to a working bike
From a city survey. Results in this graph are limited to people with access to a working bike

An annual survey of Seattle residents (16+) found that 30 percent of Seattleites rides a bike at least several times a year. 19 percent of Seattle adults bikes at least several times every month. 10 percent bikes daily or several days a week.

At the top of the list of reasons Seattleites do not bike more: Safety concerns, mostly pertaining to fears of traffic or fear of riding without safe bike lanes.

The annual survey results were released as the City Council is debating the Bike Master Plan, which places safety as its top priority. The Council is holding a public hearing on the plan tonight (Wednesday), starting at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 11.31.14 AMThe survey shows that lack of access to a working bicycle is the biggest reason people in Seattle do not bike. Most people who have access to a bike ride it regularly, but a full half of Seattle adults does not have access to one. Bike access in Seattle is skewed toward white men younger than 55.

The bike plan includes strategies to widen the appeal and availability of bicycling, with safe bike routes in every neighborhood and a specific emphasis on improving safety and access in underserved areas.

The upcoming launch of Puget Sound Bike Share could also be an opportunity to dramatically increase access to bikes for more residents.

Other interesting notes from the survey: The most common place to bike is on arterial streets with bike lanes (37%), followed by neighborhood streets (33%), followed by trails (25%). Most bicycle trips were less than five miles in length, a very encouraging stat considering that half of all trips made in US metro areas are fewer than three miles long. Once more Seattle residents take up bicycling, they will find most of their trips within the range of an easy bike ride.

It’s also worth noting that in previous years, the survey team only called landlines. This year, they added cell phones to the mix. So some of the year-to-year changes might represent a change in the sample as much a change in bike use.

Below is the full survey report. You can also download the crosstab data from the SDOT website.

13-5004 Bicycle IVR Report by tfooq

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37 responses to “Survey: 30 percent of Seattle adults bikes, safety biggest reason holding people back”

  1. Jane

    It needs to be harder to get a license to drive. Costs of driving need to be borne by people who drive, not funded by taxes. There need to be higher penalties for driving aggressively, as well as while distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These three things would go a long way toward making streets more usable for a larger amount of the population and make biking a lot more safe and less scary.

    1. Allan

      Thank you, Jane. I ride a lot less because of the drivers, not the infrastructure. We could have the best infrastructure in the world and it won’t do any good without changing the attitudes of the drivers.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Culture shift and infrastructure shift must go hand-in-hand. One won’t necessarily work without the other, but they also don’t exist in a vacuum. When a street appears to be for cars-only, people will treat it that way.

      2. mike archambault

        Exactly, Tom. Also, as people bike more, they will have more bike empathy when they are in a car. I know I didn’t realize how dangerous I was as a driver until I started biking around the city more! This is also a huge side benefit of getting more cops on foot and bikes… it could translate into better enforcement of dangerous driving behaviors.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        Agreed, Mike. Once someone gives biking a try, they’ll realize two things. 1. It’s great. 2. Oh! That’s why people keep talking about the need for more bike lanes!

      4. daihard

        Tom and Mike, that’s exactly my feeling too. I never realized how bad a driver I was to cyclists until I started riding. I bike almost daily now, and I certainly appreciate well-designed bike lanes.

  2. Southeasterner

    A bit concerning that the percentage of people just not interested is increasing.

    I have a few colleagues who have stopped biking to work, not because of safety or weather issues, but because they don’t want to be associated to the bad behavior of cyclists in this city. However an informal survey of my non-cyclists colleagues indicate that the biggest issues are safety, safety, and safety.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I would actually bet that the apparent increase in “not interested” has more to do with calling cell phones. The crosstabs show that young people were way more likely not to have a landland. They also show that young people were both more likely to ride a bike AND more likely to list “not interested” as reason for not biking more. They were also less likely to list safety as a reason for biking less. Young, invincible, etc…

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Correction! I just double checked and saw that this is not true. I confused myself. Scratch that.

    2. Jane

      So they’d rather be associated with a group (drivers) that murder 30,000 Americans a year? Interesting.

      1. Southeasterner

        They ride the bus. I don’t think anyone associates bus riders with murderers…although there are some sketchy people on Seattle buses.

    3. daihard

      I don’t understand your co-workers’ logic. Do they drive to work now? If so, would they rather be associated with a group of people who waste fossil oil, break the laws all the time and kill tens of thousands of people?

      1. Douglas Peterson

        The disdain many have for cyclists is not rational. Sure, motorists are responsible for the vast majority of infractions, but people still consider cycle scofflaws to be a serious problem. This has been the perception from the beginning. That the “scofflaw cyclist” meme was popular even in the 1890s (probably the period in which cycling popularity was at its peak) does not make me feel hopeful for our image in the future.

      2. daihard

        I wonder what causes the motorists to have such a twisted view of the cyclists. Is it as simple as not seeing the beam in their own eyes?

  3. Gene Balk

    The 10% figure for daily/weekly riders jibes with my market research database that shows 11% saying they use a bike as transportation.

  4. Jeffrey J. Early

    Am I reading that graph wrong? I get different numbers than you.
    rides daily = 8%
    rides at least weekly = 8% + 11% = 19%
    rides at least monthly = 8% + 11% + 17% = 36%
    rides at least several times per year = 59%

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yeah, that’s a little confusing. As notes in the image caption, the graph at the top only represents responses from the 50% of residents who have access to a working bike. When all residents are included, you get the numbers i state in the beginning of the post.

      1. Jeffrey J. Early

        Ah! Thank you.

      2. daihard

        I had the same question that Jeffrey did. Thank you for the clarification.

  5. Allan

    I think that you would find more than 30% of those fit enough to ride regularly in the street don’t ride due to safety issues. Other people just never thought that far ahead. They feel that they cannot bicycle up hills or they wear out in a block so they never think far enough ahead to quote safety as their impediment. When you consider people who would be capable of riding anywhere, far and fast, but don’t ride, I think it is 75% a safety issue and I know people like that, lots of them.
    2. If the streets were safer people could be healthier and more productive. Cars cause heart attacks, because they promote a lack of fitness. Many people cannot go across the street or down the block without their car. They struggle for a parking place close to the store because they will not walk from the far end of the lot. If a person gets in the habit of using a wheel chair all the time, it will be very hard to learn to do without it.
    3. I think that a lot of the ill feelings toward cyclists is brought about by envy. Some people hate cyclists for doing what they could never do, though they may not recognize the root cause of their feelings. They hate cyclists more than pedestrians because they don’t have to pay the high costs of driving. Psychiatric care is rationed due to costs and the cheapest way out is to give everyone little yellow feel good pill. When they get the wrong pill they just have to take it out on somebody whether with a car or a gun. Improving mental health should be a big issue as well.
    4. I wonder if we could have a Drive to Work Day, when everyone who rides the bus or rides a bike will drive to work adhering strictly to the speed limits, which might be enough to cause an all day traffic jam and impress upon the regular car drivers what would happen if everyone drove a car to work.

    1. Jeff Dubrule

      So, theoretically there is a Drive To Work Day, on April 1st of each year (fools!), however nobody’s really publicized it well, so even if enough people heard about it and drove to mess up traffic, nobody would know that was the cause…

    2. Douglas Peterson

      I’ve never bought the “they’re jealous” argument. None of my experiences seem to jibe with that interpretation.

      1. I agree, Douglas. I think it has more to do with the separate identity created by many cyclists due to what they wear or how they act, and perhaps equally due to the investment, financial and emotional, that people have in their cars and trucks. If someone spent and is spending a big part of their income on a vehicle (or bike), they really want to be able to use it, feel entitled to use it, and feel threatened by people saying they should not use it or acting like they want to take their roadway and parking access away.

      2. Every time I’m in a car or on a bus and see someone on a bike out the window I feel jealous and wish I was riding… not that it gives me bad feelings toward anyone, unless the car in front of me buzzes them or something.

      3. Jane

        Same here. Every time I ride in a car I feel like a jackass.

  6. Matthew Snyder

    It’s unfortunate that the “n” here is fairly low — it’s hard to really put that much stock into the numbers, and I’m wary of the conclusion that safety is the key issue of concern, given the “margin of error” of the study. Maybe SDOT could boost that number by asking for volunteer phone survey conductors in the same way they ask for people to count cyclists on the street corner?

    But at any rate, safety is clearly one of several major concerns. Do we have numbers on what, if any, safety improvements would be most likely to alleviate the concerns of the people who don’t bike due to perceived risk? I’d like to think that greenways would be the answer for the average person, but until we figure out a way to get the arterial crossings right, I’m worried we’ll continue to leave these willing-but-worried folks behind. For a parent biking with kids, or someone new to cycling, it’s still pretty intimidating to cross the arterials on the Wallingford greenway or the Ballard greenway– and this is after high-profile SDOT treatment. It would be great to see a greenway somewhere in the city that TRULY prioritized greenway traffic at arterial crossings, as a demonstration of the transformational power of this kind of infrastructure. Do we have the political will to make this happen?

  7. KA

    There are obviously lots of reasons that people don’t bike:

    Safety concerns
    Lack of sufficient bike lanes and trails
    Don’t own/can’t afford a decent bike + necessary equipment
    No safe place to lock bike up at work
    No way to shower at work
    Hills (for cities like Seattle at least)
    Fear of bike being stolen even while riding it
    Don’t feel like it or enjoy cycling
    Don’t care for physical exertion
    Cycling not seen as normal/proper for adults in one’s subculture

    Not all of these can be addressed by better public bike policy. But some can, and should be. For example, more dedicated bike lanes with hard barriers separating them from traffic, bike sharing programs like in NYC, locker and shower facilities in workplaces and schools, etc.

  8. Josh

    I think it’s important to recognize the difference between safety and the perception of safety. Perception drives actions, and perceptions can be very different from reality.

    Consider Copenhagen… They’ve had seven fatal right-hook accidents so far this year, but while that’s driving official inquiries, you don’t see the hysterical response American media like to foment, or London-style mass die-ins.

    Riding in Seattle is already reasonably safe, but the perception is that it’s much more dangerous than driving. If your goal is mode share, your tactics need to address the perception of safety more than objective accident rates.

  9. Barbara

    In the Netherlands and Denmark, commonly considered the most advanced and liberal countries in Europe, the solution to bicycle safety has been to tame traffic by restricting auto access to residential and shopping districts, reducing traffic speeds, strongly supporting public transit, and encouraging and subsidizing bike riding. In the Netherlands, bike helmets are not only not mandated, but US cyclists who visit there and ride helmeted cause considerable public amusement. In the Netherlands, from 40 to 50 percent of the population commutes to work on bicycles. The notion that Americans think cycling is dangerous is quite funny to Dutch cyclists, who are well aware of America’s pathetic record on gun control! Despite all this “dangerous” unhelmeted riding, the bike safety record of the Netherlands is exemplary, with the lowest mortality rate of any industrialized bike-riding nation. This is because they have addressed the real problem: the cars.

  10. Barbara

    also the speed limits in this city are absurdly high

    1. Allan

      Yes Barbara, a 25 mph speed limit, enforced on most city streets would solve the problem.

      1. Josh

        A 25mph speed limit would reduce the severity of many mid-block car/bike accidents, but it wouldn’t do much for intersection accidents that account for the majority of fatalities. Going under a semi at 15mph still gets you crushed by its tires. (As noted above, Copenhagen has 7 fatal right-hook accidents so far this year. Their official studies recognize that cycletracks can increase the risk of this type of accident unless bikes and motorists have entirely separate signal phases, and motorist right-on-red is prohibited.)

  11. jeff

    The survey shows that lack of access to a working bicycle is the biggest reason people in Seattle do not bike.

    What exactly in the report justifies this statement? Half the people surveyed do not have a bike. This seems to make the logical leap that those people would love to be bicycling around if they had one.

    1. Kirk from Ballard

      The survey shows that lack of access to a working bicycle is the biggest reason people in Seattle do not bike.

      I also thought that wasn’t a valid conclusion from this data. Only 8% of those surveyed that don’t have a working bike don’t have one because it’s too expensive (25 respondents). 25% of those that don’t have a working bike don’t own one because they feel biking is unsafe (75 respondents). 39% don’t own one because they aren’t intereseted in biking, for whatever reason (117 respondents).
      So the biggest reason people in Seattle don’t bike is because they aren’t intereseted(117/600); even if they own a bike (78 respondents). Lack of interest is the biggest reason overall (117+178=195/600).
      For those that are intereseted in biking, lack of safety is by far the biggest hinderance to people driving a bike, either by not owning a bike at all (75/600) or driving it less than they would like to because of safety concerns (85/600); (75+85=160/600).

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Good points.

  12. Allan

    Today I rode from W Seattle to Renton to pick up my car. I really avoided riding in busy streets. I did have to ride side streets through South Park and down 14th Ave S to E Marginal past Boeing to the Green River Trail. I could not ride on Grady and had to work around it through a construction site and a park. In Renton I used sidewalks. The point is it was a pretty safe route and people need to be taught safe routes in Seattle. When you know Seattle well enough you can use the safest routes to get around. Sometimes they are longer. I don’t think anyone has really compiled a list of safe routes and safe tactics for the city.

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