The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released results from a “first of its kind” national survey that was designed to gauge behaviors and attitudes about bicycling and walking.
The survey was conducted with a “nationally representative sample” of nearly 10,000 American residents over 16 years of age between June 11 and August 20, 2002. There was also a mix of “urbanicity” of respondents between suburban, urban, and rural areas.
I had never heard of this survey before reading about it on Streetsblog this morning and it’s been fascinating to read through the findings.
Here are some of the findings that caught my eye…
Access to a bicycle rises with income
The survey’s finding that, “Access to a bicycle rises along with household income” is a bit sad. Bikes don’t have to be expensive. The current economic crisis might also change this chart — as more Americans use bikes for non-recreation purposes and fix-up clunkers to save money.
Frequency of biking in summer months
Over half of Americans (57%) reported they never ride during the summer months (!).
This nearly made me cry.
I was shocked that the number of people who never ride in summer was so high. In a later chart, NHTSA asked why they answered never and 28% (the top response) was “no access to bicycle”. Let’s get free, neighborhood bike programs up and running folks!
Why are people bicycling?
I’m not surprised to see recreation and exercise at the top, but I think it’s fantastic to realize that 47% of the bike trips were taken for other, more utilitarian purposes.
NHTSA also found that, “The bicycle was a preferred mode of transportation even when other modes of transportation were available.” 86% of respondents said they could have taken other modes for their non-recreational trips, but chose to bike instead.
I was also struck by the income and racial disparity of those who have alternate modes (like a bike) available. NHTSA found that 75% of blacks and 73% of households with less than $15,000 income were “least likely” to have alternate modes available.
Not surprisingly, the top reported threat (of the 11% who felt threatened) to safety when bicycling was “motorists”. The survey found that,
the top two actions seen as threatening were motorists driving too close to the bicyclist (40%), and motorists driving too fast (32%).
Availability and Use of Bicycle Paths/Bicycle Lanes
50% of bicyclists reported bike paths are available where they ride and just 32% said bike lanes are available. But…
…the survey also found that less than half of bicyclists actually use those bike lanes/paths when available. Why? Because by a large margin, respondents said that the paths/lanes were “Not convenient”.
Other topics covered in the report include helmet use (or not), riding with visible clothing, and more. The survey also asked similar questions about walking.
It’s rare that bike advocates and believers get access to a survey of this size from a federal agency. I hope NHTSA plans to re-do the survey every few years so we can see how/if attitudes change as cities become more bike-friendly.
And I also hope that next time they do a survey like this, it doesn’t take six years for the full results to come out.
You can download PDFs of the report from the NHTSA website.