Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Bike-friendliness and walk-friendliness are actually pretty different, study says

Posted by on October 28th, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Rosa Parks Way -3

Rosa Parks Way.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Portland has a long way to go, but it’s one of the country’s best cities to bike in. Sad to say, it isn’t yet one of the country’s best cities to walk in.

So why do so many people, here and elsewhere, speak as if there’s an activity called “bikingandwalking” that can be encouraged all at once?

Some new research from a recent Portland State University engineering grad helps to disentangle the science of these two awesome activities.

“Highly walkable and highly bikeable environments are quite different,” writes Christopher Muhs (who’s now a transportation engineering assistant at local firm DKS) in his paper. “Two of the most divergent characteristics are travel speeds and distances. … It follows that pedestrians tend to travel much shorter distances than cyclists.”

Muhs, working with PSU professor Kelly Clifton, looked at various studies that found correlations between characteristics of cities and neighborhoods and the amount of biking and walking that happens in them — number of intersections per mile, for example, or the size in square feet of local retail stores. Here’s one interesting discovery:

The magnitudes of the impact of built environment variables on walking are often much larger than those with bicycling. This is also true of trip distance or travel time variables. In three US studies, the magnitudes of the trip distance coefficient for walk mode choice were more than three times those of the corresponding coefficient for bicycling.

In other words: it takes a lot longer to rebuild a city into walk-friendliness than it does to rebuild it into bike-friendliness.

Advertisement

Here’s another insight: it might be possible for a city to be too dense for biking.

Cycling may also be sensitive to minimum and maximum thresholds. For example, high-density locations correlated with central business districts, downtowns, and regional centers may not provide environments conducive to cycling. The greater intersection densities and traffic control often mean more stops, slowing travel speeds. … On the other end of the spectrum, low-density environments may not provide destinations within a reasonable distance for utilitarian cycling but may offer better recreational opportunities.

Muhs also touches on this perennial problem:

It has also been acknowledged that cyclists may be more multimodal than other travelers, due to weather or other situational constraints. … Nearly all of the literature we reviewed consisted of cross-sectional studies, with individuals observed at just one point in time. The lack of longitudinal studies on bicycling makes us raise the question: Is our current understanding of cycling behavior based on a slim percentage of the overall cycling population?

Yes indeed.

The paper from Muhs and Clifton was published this fall in the Journal of Transportation and Land Use.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

59
Leave a Reply

avatar
15 Comment threads
44 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
30 Comment authors
John MassengalesorenAlex ReedwsbobJohn Andersen Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Chris Smith
Guest

I’ve often hypothesized that my neighborhood in NW Portland has lower biking rates because it is SO walkable. (of course we could use improved bike infrastructure as well)

Captain Karma
Guest

Your lead photo appears to be Abbey Road. Just need a VW beetle in there.

Scott H
Guest
Scott H

“It might be possible for a city to be too dense for biking.” Anyone who’s biked in Manhattan knows this is complete horse manure that the authors are simply attempting to glean from the actual data.

Come to think of it, Manhattan pretty much flies in the face of the entire study. Manhattan is a great place to walk and to bike. If you need to go downtown or uptown you grab your bike. If you’re only going several blocks, you walk. If it’s pouring rain, you take the subway.

davemess
Guest
davemess

This seems like a pretty obvious hypothesis to test.
My own house has a very bikeable bike score (79) and a somewhat walkable (moderate for Portland) walk score (68).
I’m sure my neighborhood is not unique to this type of discrepancy in Portland.

Matt
Guest
Matt

When I moved here from the east coast, I couldn’t believe that I had to push a button for the privilege to cross the street and that cars can turn on red pretty much everywhere, even busy intersections with people trying to cross all hours of the day. It’s a suburban model applied to some of the densest parts of the city. Makes no sense.

soren
Subscriber

Is our current understanding of cycling behavior based on a slim percentage of the overall cycling population?

Why does Muhs hate bike portland commenters?
/ducks

ethan
Guest
ethan

If Portland (and PBOT) really cared about walk friendliness, they would stop installing (and start removing) beg buttons.

It’s ridiculous to me that intersections are being “upgraded” with these buttons that make people wait when we’re walking so that other people don’t have to wait at all.

Spiffy
Subscriber

Is our current understanding of cycling behavior based on a slim percentage of the overall cycling population?

I see this all the time in comments on other sites… people state that we’re building all this infrastructure for the summer commute numbers and then it’s mostly empty in winter…

I counter by asking if they’d like roads built for the lowest usage… I usually don’t get a response…

rick
Guest
rick

Not all of the recent concrete stairs around the pdx region have included the wheel step function.

maccoinnich
Guest

“it might be possible for a city to be too dense for biking” I think this is definitely possible in theory, but we’re a long way from hitting the reality of that in Portland. Copehnagen has a population density of 18,000 people/sq mile, while Portland only has 4,375 people/sq mile. Yes; that include the airport, Forest Park, etc, but even the Pearl was only at 15,671 people/sq mile as of 2010.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Because of the relative speed factor, sidewalks primarily intended for walking, probably don’t need to be as wide as MUP’s, and bike lanes/cycle tracks. A width of 6′ for two way walking works ok. For biking 6′ is barely enough for one way traffic, though people biking often have had to get by with less width.

Being able to lay some paint down on a road’s existing right of way to create a passable bike lane, is certainly easier and less money than setting up forms and pouring concrete for sidewalks.

Biggest obstacle to both better biking infrastructure, and better walking infrastructure, may be securing and paying for rights of way where it’s needed to provide room for addition of quality bike lanes and sidewalks. And of course, vision for a future where realistically, increasing percentages of the population may look to walking and biking for getting around.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Actually, J-walking is the safest way to negotiate streets, either at corners or midblock. One looks both or all ways, assumes nothing, but trusts in one’s own eyes and ears to cross when the coast is clear. In Old Portland you could get a ticket for this and spend a Saturday AM in “traffic school.”
I recall the “beg button” on N. Channel on Swan Island…it was very responsive, considering that vehicles could be traveling at 60mph or more. I feared at times that PBOT would learn of that (not the speeding, but the button responsiveness) and “fix” it!

Opus the Poet
Guest

And everybody is ignoring the elephant in the room, making streets about cars is detrimental to both walking and cycling. You want cycling and/i> walking? Either completely tame or completely eliminate motor vehicle traffic.

John Andersen
Guest
John Andersen

There is a big picture, spiritual dimension to walking as a primary means of transportation. It matters.

John Massengale
Guest

I’ve only been to Portland twice, mainly downtown. There was no bike share then, so I’ve never ridden a bike in Portland. In other words, I’m not claiming to be an expert on the state of cycling in Portland.

What I do know, as an urban designer and street designer, is that a lot of work on bike lanes around the country has been about adding bicycle lanes to transportation corridors. Transportation corridors are first and foremost about traffic flow.

Many of the transportation corridors where bike lanes have been added are no better for pedestrians after the changes than they were before. Pedestrians want places where people get out of their cars and walk, not non-places where cars flow through, taking most of the space and creating danger. We had 33,000 traffic deaths last year. I don’t know how many of those killed were on bicycles, but obviously a speeding car that hits a cyclist is bad for the cyclist.

The safest streets are streets with no cars. The second safest streets are streets where cars are going under 20 mph. And streets where cars go under 20 mph are also streets where it’s easy to make places where people want to get out of their cars and walk.

John Massengale, co-author of Street Design, The Secret to Great Cities and Towns.