Who Will Ride A Bicycle On What Type Of Facility

Who Will Ride; How Far, When, On What ?

A very common comment from people is that they don’t ride a bicycle because they don’t feel safe on our streets. This is largely a universal human condition and not limited to just the U.S. Dutch folk feel no more comfortable in various situations than U.S. folk. And this is what drives transportation engineering in The Netherlands — they make streets and roads that are safe and feel safe for all users.

So, who will ride how far on what when?

What Types of Facilities Will People Be Comfortable Riding On?

There are, according to Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator at the Portland Office of Transportation, four types of bicycle riders.

I think this classification is fairly universal and equally represents Dutch as well as US and other folk. So, what kinds of facilities will these people in Roger’s graphic ride on? The chart below is my estimate of this. It is based on actual attainment so I believe it is fairly accurate. It’s important to keep in mind that one facility does not a good bicycling environment make and that missing links that create discomfort will prevent many people from riding.

Who Will Ride A Bicycle On What Type Of Facility


  • Sharing roads with vehicles (vehicular cycling, bicycle driving, cycling savvy) results in about 1-2% modal share or people riding bicycles instead of driving.
  • Portland Oregon, with a decent network of painted bike lanes along with a few two-way and buffered, has achieved about 7%. However, they’ve been stuck at 7% for many years. This is because the other 93% of people are not today and likely never will be comfortable riding on the facilities that Portland has built. Portland has built for 7% and that is what they’ve achieved. If Portland wants more people to ride then they need better facilities.
  • The Netherlands, at the other end of the scale, have nearly 100% of their population riding bicycles for at least some of their transportation. It’s important to note that Dutch engineers consider CROW standards a minimum and often design facilities that exceed CROW standards. Or, such as in Rotterdam, not so much.
  • Denmark has lesser facilities than The Netherlands and this is reflected in how much people ride. At the top of the list is that most junctions in Denmark do not provide protection for bicycle riders as Dutch junctions do. Danish bikeways are also often narrower, bumpier, and less defined compared to their Dutch counterparts.
  • Shoreview Minnesota has achieved quite good results with their Shared Use Paths. The bar for Shoreview is possibly a bit inconsistent though because it represents how many middle school children ride a bicycle to school. Many days there will be a good number of folks riding bicycles to brunch or the grocery but considerably less than indicated. When asked, the number one reason people in Shoreview give for not riding is their bicycle (uncomfortable, can’t ride in regular clothes, has been hanging in the garage for 3 years and needs to be repaired, etc.).

The Netherlands, Denmark and Shoreview all have something in common vs the others—work commuters make up a smaller share of overall trips. The modal share of commuters in The Netherlands is actually only about 37%, but nearly 100% ride for shorter trips. In Denmark modal share for commuters is 27% yet 60% report riding a bicycle for local daily transportation. I’d guesstimate Shoreview’s commute modal share to be about 1%, yet many times that ride to school or to Taste of Scandinavia for coffee.

When Will People Ride On What Type Of Facility?

The volume and speed of traffic plays a critical role in what types of facilities are needed by most people. Here is my guesstimate of about how many people will feel comfortable on what types of facilities when. The higher the speed of traffic and greater the volume of traffic the greater protection needed.

Who Will Ride A Bicycle On What Type Of Facility When

This is based somewhat on what CROW recommends in the Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic along with reports from several organizations such as DutchCycling, Fietsberaad, and others indicating how successful various types of facilities are.

This, BTW, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t build a buffered painted bike lane on roads like Cleveland in St Paul. Though a protected bikeway would likely allow ten times as many people to ride and is what would be done in European cities, a painted bike lane is still better than nothing and still encouraging more bicycling and allow some people to ride who otherwise would not.

How Far Will People Ride?

If provided with safe, comfortable and efficient enough facilities to ride on, how far will people ride for daily transportation? E.g., how far will most people ride to work, school, dinner, grocery, pharmacy, etc. In Europe, about 2 miles or 3 km seems a bit of a magic number. Almost everyone will ride 2 miles each way for whatever need. Longer distances begin to see increasing numbers choosing to drive.

Weather also plays a significant role. In The Netherlands we know that light rain or snow and temps down to about 35f have little impact. As temps fall below 35f then distances will decrease. So, while 90% of people will ride to the grocery store when it’s 35f, only about 40% will when it’s 20f.

How Far Will People Ride A Bicycle

What does this tell us?


Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at localmile.org, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN