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.
- 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.
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.
What does this tell us?
These graphs are excellent for introducing new ways to consider what drives bike usage. As a person who is probably in the strong-fearless category (and who has been hit by a care twice while biking)I hadn’t really considered that so many people might not be comfortable with it, and that their discomfort could be overcome by design changes.
That being said, I’m not so sure about your last graph. I like biking as much as anyone, but I highly doubt that I would go 5 miles for a store. I honestly don’t think I even drive 5 miles to a store, I just don’t like wasting the the time. I pretty much only go shopping within a mile or two of home or work (since I do bike ~4 miles to work).
I sort of doubt that 20% of your population would bike that far for shopping, even if it were safe.
I went five miles round trip to the store (Seward Coop) on Sunday (on a cargo bike). Actually also stopped at the nearby SuperValu on the way home.
Granted, I also wanted to get a little exercise in, and there were specific things I wanted from that store, but still.
Good point. For a routine errand to the store for some flour, 5 miles would be a lot. If it’s riding to church or to a nice dinner then not so much?
In The Netherlands almost everybody will ride a bicycle for trips of 2 miles each way or less. Beyond 2 miles brings in a greater likelihood of other modes. Then again, there are some/many like Adam who will happily ride 5 miles to the grocery.
I have definitely seen this in my own life. I am very comfortable riding on the Minnehaha Ave buffered bike lanes, so when it was time to take my son to preschool I thought we would take that route, no problem. Turns out I was wrong! I simply do not feel comfortable on these bike lanes – perhaps the best unprotected bike lanes in the city – when towing my child at rush hour. And even on the route we now take, I will am extremely cautious biking with him in the dark. So it’s not just that there are different types of transportation cyclists, but that we become different types across our lifespan. I would love to see the default be to build the most protective type of infrastructure unless there is a compelling reason to make it less protective, rather than needing to make the case for each individual project to be upgraded.
Excellent point. One of the really great things about northern Europe is how many children ride bicycles and how many do so alone. Children typically begin riding to school alone at about age 8 and it’s not unusual to see a 6-year-old riding to school with a 9-year-old sibling or friend. In most communities the infrastructure is such that children ride anywhere in complete safety.
Similarly, parents are comfortable riding anywhere with their really young children and they do so as often as possible so that their children learn to ride safely and navigate. The big exceptions are time and consideration for others. A 3-year-old cannot ride very fast so when in a hurry they’ll ride on a bike with mom or dad. Parents also think about their children delaying others so are considerate of where they allow their children to ride. Sometimes a parent will ride their bakfiets and let their child ride alongside but when they get to a busier bikeway then child and bike will find comfort in the bakfiets. This latter also works well for longer journeys that a child may not yet have the stamina for.
At the end of this journey P1 and his bike hitchhiked with little sister in the bakfiets: http://www.bakfiets-en-meer.nl/2012/09/12/bikes-on-dikes/
On your second point. YES! https://streets.mn/2015/02/11/every-road-for-every-person/
For several decades, my wife and I were a two car family. Two years ago, we became a one car family, and I ride my bike for most trips two miles or less. But most important, I find riding my bike to a Green line or Blue Line connection is very effective and practical for me, and extends my travel range.
Also, UBER is more useful for me now.
I am 78 years old and bike riding is important to my health.
“I am 78 years old and bike riding is important to my health.”
Yes! A key reason my wife and I chose to move to Shoreview is because of the bikeways that allow us to safely and comfortably ride for many of our daily trips like grocery, pharmacy, dinner, wine, and most importantly, cappuccinos. It’s our retirement health plan.
While I think these graphs are correct generally, I’m curious as to the level of estimation and guesswork for each. How did we get Shoreview’s mode shares? Is this the number of people who would ride on a facility, or the number of people who do (routinely) make significant trips by these facilities?
Also, culture does play a large role. “No Way No How” means, no way, no how. These people view cycling not as untenable due to circumstances like infrastructure, but as a political statement they disagree with, or a debilitating disability (my brother with down syndrome rides, so this isn’t meant to be anyone with a disability).
That last point perhaps merits more attention. How many people are not in any physical condition to ride a bike?
Come to think of it, my wife, despite being 30 years old and in good shape, basically does not know how to ride a bike. I suppose should could learn with some effort, but she simply can’t bike to the store today, because she is wobbly and would probably fall off. She doesn’t really know how to ride a bike (and I’m being serious here) because she grew up in Wyoming and she had a horse.
So how many people either a. are not in physical shape to ride a bike, or b. simply don’t know how to ride a bike?
I’d wage that both numbers are surprisingly high.
I don’t know what the number is, but it’s fewer that gets made out in each and every discussion of whether to add a new bike facility (implicitly, 99.7% according to the opposition).
Good points. Netherlands, Denmark and Portland are actual attainment so I think quite accurate. I think, based on what we’ve seen over the past few decades, that Bicycle Driving (and Vehicular Cycling and Cycling Savvy) is accurate.
There is considerable guesstimation for DZBL’s, Buffered Bike Lanes and Two-Way.
Shoreview is based largely on the number of students who ride to Chippewa Middle School along with some supposition of how many people overall would ride if they had proper bikes and mind-share. Many don’t even think about their bicycle as a mode of transportation except perhaps for children under 15.
I think if we had proper facilities and increasing numbers of people were riding then many of the current No Way No How would begin to convert. Based on my conversations with them it seems many are the way they are largely out of ignorance more than anything.
As to disabled, The Netherlands is like a giant old folks and disabled folks home. People who have difficulty walking, even with a walker, can very often ride their bicycle (or tricycle) for considerable distances. More: https://streets.mn/2015/05/06/enabling-the-disabled-a-view-from-the-uk/
We (the U.S.) are the least healthy of all developed countries, have the highest rates of obesity and of most preventible chronic diseases. Joint problems caused by overweight and obesity alone are higher than all chronic diseases in other countries. This is largely due to our lack of moderate daily activity. Many people who are already unable to ride due to obesity or follow-on chronic diseases will likely never ride. However, as more people ride and walk rather than drive then we should begin to see reductions in overweight, obesity, and chronic diseases in general and a related increase in the number of people and can and will ride.
Hope that makes sense.
As a former Portlander and still-frequent visitor (was there again just last week), I would agree that Portland’s facilities are the reason they’ve been stuck at the 7%* plateau for 5+ years.
Despite a fairly dense network of conventional 5-7′ unprotected lanes in the core city (within 2-4 miles of downtown), Portland’s bike infrastructure is otherwise not very good:
– Its protected bikeway network actually lags well behind that of Minneapolis. Only a couple miles so far.
– Portland has only a fraction of the separated-MUP network (e.g., Minneapolis’ Grand Rounds) as you find in the Twin Cities, and unlike here they become almost nonexistent in the suburbs.
– As in the Twin Cities, many of the unprotected lanes are substandard, often disappearing into “shared” lanes at the intersections where cyclists most need protection.
– While the bike lane network is fairly strong in the core, it mostly falls apart as you get away from downtown. In the West Hills (which separate Portland from most of its white-collar job base), the hilly terrain developed in the mid-20th century mostly lacks sidewalks, let alone bike lanes. There are literally zero safe, expedient routes over the West Hills. You can choose between routes that are safe and low-traffic but involve major steep climbs, or a mere two routes with more gradual climbs and bike lanes but very high traffic volumes.
– Going east isn’t much better: beyond a 3-4 mile radius (not even halfway to the city limit) the street pattern becomes a superblock grid, with the only through routes being terrifying 100′-wide multilane stroads with high traffic volumes and speeds. Some of these have bike lanes, but are pushed out against traffic, too far from the curb, by parking lanes that are rarely used.
– Drivers are more hostile. You know how drivers will almost always yield when they see you coming at the Grand Rounds crossings near (for instance) Lake Nokomis? That would never, EVER happen in Portland. Ironic, since Minnesota drivers are far more hostile to pedestrians than Oregon drivers.
Since I moved here, I’ve consistently found that outside the very core urban area, Minneapolis is a better place to ride a bike than Portland. There are things Minnesota can learn from Oregon, but pick and choose carefully.
* To Portland’s credit, the 7% figure is citywide, and far from equally distributed. Portland’s boundaries are much more broadly drawn than Minneapolis or St. Paul’s, thanks to different annexation patterns in the past. There are numerous neighborhoods close to the core where the figure is 15-20%. Not surprisingly, ridership by neighborhood correlates pretty strongly with the quality of bike facilities. For good reason, the city started with the easier, low-hanging fruit of denser, closer-in parts of town. Bang for the buck. But they’ve stagnated in finishing the job by extending the network of quality bikeways further out, and there has been a lot of equity-based criticism of this.
When I started bike commuting almost 20 years ago, I was a bit of an outlier. But more recently, everywhere I’ve lived in Portland I found there were multiple bike commuters on every block. I’m not aware of it being that high anywhere in the Twin Cities. But it IS possible.
Excellent points. I think the lack of consideration from drivers was the thing that surprised me the most on my visits. Portland is like Alabama and Florida in that regard.
There seem to be fits and starts with protected infra there. Lots of talk and planning for a brief period and then suddenly nothing.
The issue I see here is that we’re conflating cultural and infrastructure aspects here. One thing I’ve brought up again and again, that others disagree with me on, is that there’s something fundamentally, culturally different about Americans and Europeans, not just in regards to transportation choices but also things like political ideology, constitutional / human rights and such. Cultural differences that are something to cherish, not try to eradicate.
Put Denmark or Dutch style bicycle infrastructure in the US, and it would probably get a
bit more use than MUPS do now, or put MUPS in Europe and they would get a bit less use than what Europeans have now and I don’t think the difference would be anything like 97% vs 22%. My take, as an “interested but concerned” myself is most of the interested but concerned would be satisfied with a MUP and the difference in bicycling rates is to to cultural factors. All the people that use say the Greenway or Lake Calhoun trails is not that they’re a step above a MUP in design, but because they’re light years ahead of a typical MUP in front of a office park as an interesting place to take a ride.
“Where I’ll Ride” can be summed up in a flowchart “Is there concrete between me and cars? Yes or No. Granted I prefer a MUP with at least some boulevard to the Washington or 66th Cyletracks, but not having it isn’t a dealbreaker.
The problem with the cultural explanation is that Denmark and the Netherlands made the transportation choices we do when they had our infrastructure. Those choices changed as the infrastructure changed.
Maybe we’re different, but we can’t really know that until we change our infrastructure too.
Also, the city can be an naturally interesting place to ride if it’s also safe and welcoming.
I think that there are definitely some cultural issues. I’m not sure how much of a difference they’ll make long term. Possibly the biggest is that ‘cyclists’ are viewed negatively in the U.S. because drivers have too much experience with chip-on-the-shoulder-vehicular-cyclists blocking the road in front of them or running red lights (or a gob of Twin Cities Bicycle Club riders all running a red light) or any number of things. Very different from Europe in that regard.
Is it? I’ve been stuck behind gobs of road cyclists on small European roads before. Maybe it’s because they’re generally outside of cities/suburbs?
Actually found ourselves stuck driving the same roads as a race or event in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Made for some stressful driving, especially as the bikes started passing up on a downhill that ended in a narrow bridge. Did my best to stay out of the way.
One of the things that Dutch engineers have learned is the importance of small things. A minor bit of road with a painted lane instead of protected that 20% of people who’d otherwise ride are not comfortable on. Or a path that’s too narrow or a junction that feels a bit less safe.
There was a woman that I use to see riding her bicycle to Taste of Scandinavia in Shoreview on a fairly regular basis. And then I didn’t see her riding anymore. Recently I saw her and asked about it. It turned out that along one person’s yard some tall bushes had overgrown in to the path which effectively narrowed it to maybe 5′ or so. On a couple of occasions she encountered someone riding the opposite at this point and both times made her uncomfortable. She didn’t want to continue feeling uncomfortable like that so she stopped riding.
Another older gentleman stopped riding because the new disabled friendly beg button pedestals in the middle of the paths are an uncomfortable obstacle for him. Interestingly I later found out that he is actually disabled and often uses a walker because one of his legs has difficulty supporting his weight.
So, while you and I are happy with just a bit of concrete, others also need enough space to pass oncoming riders more comfortably or to not have to maneuver close to button pedestals. The lack of marked crossings at commercial driveways and the close encounters that ensue from drivers not looking for bicycle riders make others uncomfortable. The Shoreview paths are not close to as smooth as those in Europe, particularly at crossings, and for many people and particularly older people that’s a big issue.
Other people need bikes that are more comfortable and that don’t require leaning forward or tying pants legs up. And some simply need to think about riding a bicycle as an alternative.
How do we make biking safe from sexual harassment?
I frequently get harassed when I’m on my bike. There are three times it mostly happens.
–First, at red lights and stop signs – and it’s by people in cars, walking, and riding.
–Second, it’s frequently other riders, especially when passing or being passed on super-“safe” bikeways like the Midtown Greenway.
–Third, it’s shouted from sidewalks in the summer.
Well-designed, separated infrastructure does nothing to make riding safe for Femme/Trans/Women who experience this culturally-created loss of safety.
I am very sorry this is happening. I have experienced a fair amount of harassment myself over many years, some of it deadly. but I am male, so perception is not sexual harassment. The attitude that people on bikes are OK to hurt and harass is something that needs to change. Women and children and seniors should feel safe to bike. Period. Videos of people on bikes in Denmark show many women and children, but I imagine there is some harassment there too, but perhaps not as bad as here.
Thank you for posting this.
Is it different for people on bikes than people walking? Why?
I find it different. The biggest difference for me is being on the roadway at a red light. You are stuck right there next to the window of the cars, much closer than you are as a pedestrian on the sidewalk. The barrier for nasty comments is much lower, because it takes less effort to make them audible to you.
These days I mostly only get the regular harassment, not the sexual stuff, because I’m not readily identifiable as female on my bike. But I still look away quickly if I make eye contact with drivers alongside me at lights, because once they realize I’m a woman, they will sometimes take any acknowledgement as an invitation to comment.
Yeah, I think there’s an anonymity bit with people in cars that they think gives them protection to make comments that they wouldn’t make in a work or social environment where they have to interact with you on a regular basis?
Would a protected bikeway that places you a bit farther away from cars and those in them be better? If bicycle riders had their own road network, like in The Netherlands, and so were not a hinderance or nuisance to drivers or perceived as such would drivers be less antogonistic regardless of who’s riding the bicycle?
Well, assholes do generally seem to feel free to be extra insulting about all kinds of things, including bike-hate, if the object of their ire is female. But I don’t think that the sexual harassment would let up much just because we weren’t in their way. So I’m not sure a protected bikeway would help much in and or itself; the main way that better facilities would be useful would be by getting more riders on the street, so the assholes would look out their windows and see a gaggle of bikes (routine traffic) rather than a lone woman (obviously just waiting to receive the benefit of their attention).
Keep in mind that immature people who make immature comments are… immature.
Walker, highlighting immaturity minimizes the assertion of power inherent in sexual harassment and the impact it has on femme/trans/women [FTW[ using public spaces.
Just as your argue that we need to design bike facilities that meet a strong safety standard because people need to be and feel safe, we need to address street harassment to ensure FTWs are and feel safe [from harassment and assault]. Failing to ensure safety has real impacts on people’s choice to bike, walk, or take transit — or sometimes to even leave their homes.
What can we do to address this extremely pervasive, real problem so that FTWs don’t have to bear the burden of this additional risk when using public spaces?
I get an unsurprising amount of harassment from men on bikes, so no, a protected bikeway doesn’t help — and I find that the Midtown Greenway and other protected paths are some of the places where this particular problem is worst, because it’s “safer” so male riders can shift their attention away from defending themselves from drivers and towards me and other femme riders. There’s also ample space to ride (uninvited) next to women and foist unwanted conversation in a way that isn’t available on most bike lanes.
I highlight this because to make riding safe – to the level you describe, Walker – means making it safe not only from drivers but also from harassers.
I’m not arguing against separated spaces and well-designed bikeways. I’m more afraid of being hit by an unattentive driver than of being hit on and harassed by men riding on trails. And, the joy of riding my bike is lost when it includes deflecting inappropriate attention or shaking off sexual harassment.
The terms MUP and SUP represent a significant problem of design definition in my view because it does not separate walk from bike. People walking and people on bicycles are going at different speeds.
I do not think culture and cultural and infra are being conflated insofar that the use of a bicycle or walk or use of a car, is a part of culture in itself. It is what people do that makes it an important part of culture. Denmark and the Netherlands have quite a few years working on these issues and they are far ahead of us in the US and Minnesota. Attitudes change over time mostly because of need. People need to get from point A to B. Whatever is the easiest, fastest and safest way to get there, is what people will do. If our interstate and motorway only roads were built with parallel space for walk and bike (separate walk from bike), many more people would use the bike for transport, and I believe there would be a little less car traffic on all the roads.
I guess I’m not convinced this is a significant problem at the volumes of a typical suburban MUP. Most bicycles in Bloomington use the sidewalks which are much narrower than MUPs and even that doesn’t seem to be a significant problem.
Agree. I think it depends on the facilities. Vadnais Heights is much like Bloomington with people riding on sidewalks. Few people ride, or walk, in Vadnais Heights. It’s uncomfortable, not pleasant and doesn’t feel safe. Shoreview OTOH, has much better facilities that are more comfortable and safe feeling and so attract many more people.
FWIW, as much as I like the 10′ wide SUPs in Shoreview, there are increasing incidents of conflict between people walking and bicycling due to the high numbers. There are a couple of segments that several folks have been pushing the city to either widen or ideally provide separate space for each.
The terms MUP and SUP represent a significant problem of design definition in my view because it does not separate walk from bike. People walking and people on bicycles are going at different speeds.
I do not think culture and infra are being conflated insofar that the use of a bicycle or walk or use of a car, is a part of culture in itself. It is what people do that makes it an important part of culture. Denmark and the Netherlands have quite a few years working on these issues and they are far ahead of us in the US and Minnesota. Attitudes change over time mostly because of need. People need to get from point A to B. Whatever is the easiest, fastest and safest way to get there, is what people will do. If our interstate and motorway only roads were built with parallel space for walk and bike (separate walk from bike), many more people would use the bike for transport, and I believe there would be a little less car traffic on all the roads.
I will however say that MUPs/SUPs/xUPs are a good alternative to nothing or to a painted bike lane or many other options. The SUPs all around Shoreview overall work quite well. They are nowhere near Dutch or Dane or Swede or Fin or Spanish standards but aren’t bad. More: http://localmile.org/blog/2013/07/31/shoreview-state-of-the-city-draft/
Hello Walker Angell: Yes, you are right, the “MUPs/SUPs/xUPs are a good alternative to nothing or to a painted bike lane or many other options.” The problem is that a design set or definition for a structure that separates walk from bike, does not exist in the engineering “recipe” book. The MUP and SUP design and terminology definitions are ther for MUP and SUP. The result currently and over many decades is that engineers working on a project will see the MUP and SUP in the “book” and say “OK I will use this and follow the instructions for a 12 foot or 10 foot wide path.” And that is exactly what has happened for years and decades. In 2004 after going to Minneapolis and viewing the Midtown Greenway, a Saint Paul engineer stated in a meeting: “We haven’t been building trails like this in St Paul and Ramsey County.” It would seem almost obvious that if there is adequate room, why not design and build the off street non motorized trail to separate walk and bike? You need at least 16 feet width to stripe painted lines on a trail to provide two lanes for the bike and one lane for walk.
I think for a structure like the Midtown Greenway, the word “path” is no longer applicable for description, because of the separate lanes for different modes.
I may have the old paper map of trails in Shorview showing what was there 35 year ago.
Paul, that map would be interesting to see.
Have you seen this: https://streets.mn/2015/08/12/persistence-paid-off-for-shoreview-bikeways/
Spot on about the book. I assume you’re basically referring to the ‘Green Book’ and similar manuals? That’s in line with the impression I get from Ramsey County traffic engineers. They do everything based on what they’ve always done and what’s in their box of designs. They simply do not have the knowledge or skill to be able to do anything else no matter how much better it might be. And they don’t seem to have the ability to think through things or the various impacts. The book says to do X and so they do it without any real thought of how bad it might be.
I would really like to see us begin to build things to CROW standards. Or even to the new MassDOT guide (https://streets.mn/2015/11/19/massdots-new-bikeway-guide-the-beginning-of-good-things/). Or perhaps the NACTO guide (https://nacto.org/2017/12/06/designing-for-all-ages-and-abilities/), though there is still a lot of poor design guidance in there that has yet to be exorcised.
Most of the suburban MUPs/SUPs I ride in the twin cities don’t have enough pedestrian (or bike) traffic for conflicts to be frequent. The same could not be said for the Grand Rounds, but we have separated facilities there.