The Middle 50: The Holy Grail for Bikeable Communities

Who is a biker?  How do we get more people to bike for short trips?

The department of Transportation in Portland wrestles with this question as they try to build a more bike friendly city.  They have learned that their residents can  be categorized into four groups:

“Strong and Fearless”

These riders will be on the road during all conditions and are not intimidated by traffic.  Rain or shine, snow or sunny, they are riding their bikes.  They make up 1-2% of residents.  They don’t need bike lanes to feel comfortable.  They are likely to ride in the middle of the lane, like a car, and often prefer no bikeways at all.

“Enthused and Confident”

This is me! This group will ride their bikes for trips, enjoy bike lanes and other bikeways, and are confident riding in traffic.  In Denver, where bike riding is still not that common for short trips and commuting, these are the people you currently see on the streets.  They represent about 10% of the population.

“Interested but Concerned”

These residents have some experience with bike riding, they will ride on trails and during large events, like Sunday Parkways, but are not comfortable riding in traffic.  This is the “middle 50″, it’s about half of the population.  I can think of many people, including my wife and daughter, who fit this category.  They might like to ride more, but they do not feel safe riding next to fast-moving traffic on busy streets, even when bike lanes exist.

“No Way No How”

This is the group that is not interested in bicycling, making up about a third of the residents of Portland.  They will not ride a bicycle for transportation, either because they are not interested or they are unable to ride.

So what does this mean for a strategy of increasing bike ridership?  It should be clear that the middle 50 is the group you need to target.  How to describe them?  They want to be comfortable when they ride a bike.  As Roger Geller, the Bike/Ped coordinator for Portland described to me: It’s important that the experience of riding a bike is comfortable.  This comfortable experience will encourage a future ride.

While I have locked on to the phrase “Safe and Comfortable”, it’s really about having a comfortable experience.  Safety is actually expeienced as a feeling of comfort; safety as a concept is more about the injury prevented and therefore not experienced rather than something experienced during a ride.  So think of comfort and engineer roads for a comfortable biking experience.

For the Interested but Concerned middle 50, this means bike boulevards or separate bikeways like a cycle track.  Given the expense of building physically separated cycle tracks, bike boulevards is a great way to build a comfortable experience for this group.  See the new link to a youtube video, with Mia Birk describing the bike boulevard and showing you how it works.

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2 Comments on “The Middle 50: The Holy Grail for Bikeable Communities”

  1. Andy Says:

    These distinctions among rider types should be at the core of all intervention plans. With regard to Denver B-cycle, I often hear things like, “but don’t bicycle commuters already have their own bikes?” The strong and fearless, and even the enthused and confident are probably not those who would benefit the most from public bicycles or bicycle supportive infrastructural improvements.

    • Eric France Says:

      That’s a great point! Hopefully Denver will focus on the comfort of riding in the downtown area so that the interested but concerned will use the B-cycle bikes. There is also something about this group that needs help with becoming oriented to using a bicycle, the rules of the road, the places to ride. We need a strong encouragement system as well as a bikeway system.


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