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Andrea Newell headshot

U.S. Bicycling Participation on the Rise

By Andrea Newell

Earlier this month, pro-bicycling nonprofit PeopleforBikes released a report detailing American bicycling participation. The report is significant because it examines bicycle riding of any kind, by anyone, not just recreational riders or transportation use.

The report found that 34 percent of Americans (103.7 million people) rode a bicycle in the past year, and of those, about half rode twice a month or less, and 30 percent did so on fewer than six days total. While these numbers might sound dismal, the participation rate is higher than previously estimated in other surveys, which is encouraging. And the Americans that ride, but not often, represent the target demographic the organization wants to reach to increase participation rates.

The objectives of the report (compiled by Breakaway Research Group) were to:

  • Establish a baseline metric of bicycling participation data among Americans over the age of 3

  • Gather geographical details about bicycling habits that will aid in designing infrastructure in specific locations and quantify the impact of investments

  • Track bicycling participation rates using the same parameters over time to gauge the effectiveness of programs geared toward increasing participation

More than 16,000 adults completed the survey, which also reported on the bicycling habits of nearly 9,000 children. Participants were asked about their bicycling habits in addition to 10 other leisure activities, chores and sports to promote unbiased answers. Asking solely about bicycling habits can lead to artificially inflated answers, but asking about too many activities (more than 25) can lead to artificially low participation rates, so the methodology aimed for the middle ground at 10.

Nearly a third of Americans ride

More Americans rode for recreation (32 percent or 95.5 million) than for transportation (15 percent or 45.1 million). But in both groups nearly 60 percent rode twice a month or less often. On a typical day, participants reported riding a median of 30 minutes.

Out of those who didn’t ride, only 12 percent have never ridden. Twenty-nine percent said they predict they will ride in the future, but 44 percent said they will not ride in the future. When riding for transportation, going to social events and running errands are the two most commonly reported types of trips.

Barriers to riding

Two significant obstacles that are keeping people from riding are safety (which is one of the fundamental beliefs behind the Green Lanes Project) and the lack of access to an operational bicycle (48 percent of adults). Fifty-four percent of participants think bicycling is a convenient way to commute, but 52 percent are nervous about traffic. Fifty-three percent would like to ride a bike more often, and 46 percent said that they would be more likely to ride if they had access to protected bike lanes.

These infrastructure obstacles impact young adults more than older adults. However, 31 percent of total participants said that they are satisfied with the bike infrastructure available to them in their areas, and 29 percent reported that they have no difficulty combining bicycling and public transportation in their towns.

Riding declines with age; more men ride than women

The report also gathered data about gender, age and regional location of participants. The percentage of people that ride decreases with age, along with frequency. Participation in both recreational and transportation riding also goes down with age, although only recreation frequency declined with age. Interestingly, adults 25 to 34 are notably infrequent transportation riders, with 46 percent reporting riding only between one and five days total.

A higher percentage of men than women reported riding, and more men than women ride for both recreation and transportation. Among riders, those in the south rode more frequently, while more riders in the west rode for transportation. Participants in the northeast were the most likely to never have ridden a bike at all and were least likely to in the future.

The most frequent riders have annual incomes of less than $20,000 and also ride for both recreation and transportation the most frequently.

With this data, PeopleforBikes can focus the right efforts on specific regions and not only encourage more riders to participate, but also increase the frequency with which riders take to the streets.

“Accurate and detailed information on bicycling participation is essential in evaluating our overall work and the effectiveness of our programs and key projects,” said Charlie Cooper, vice president of membership and development at PeopleForBikes.

2014 was the year 1 million cyclists united

This information comes on the heels of a banner year for the organization. In 2014, PeopleforBikes reported successfully connecting 1 million riders in their effort to unite bicyclists to form one powerful voice to improve cycling.

Their Green Lanes Project saw a 75 percent increase in bike use on a street after a protected lane was installed, where 96 percent of people reported feeling safer riding. To date, the organization is responsible for implementing 191 protected bike lanes and consulting with 12 cities. In 2014, the organization awarded 34 grants (totaling $330,340), leveraged $22.5 million in bike funding and provided $824,761 in cash support for other bike nonprofits.

Traveling PeopleforBikes goodwill ambassadors visited 27 states and reached 433,000 people at more than 65 events. The organization also helped launch three bike-sharing programs in major cities.

Looking to the future

By 2025, the organization hopes that Americans will ride five times more than today, there will be five times the number of protected bike lanes across the U.S., and 4 million Americans will unite to promote better bicycling.

Image credit: Kamyar Adl creative commons license

Andrea Newell headshot

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell