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Most metro area residents are “interested but concerned”—a finding that can help guide urban planners.

A decade ago, Portland bike chief Roger Geller famously sorted the city’s cycling population into four kinds of riders. A small fraction, Geller ballparked, were “strong and fearless.” A slightly larger share, some 7 percent, were “enthused and confident.” A majority of 60 percent were “interested but concerned.” And one-third settled under the label “no way no how.” Geller considers his assessment critical to cities hoping to get more travelers onto two wheels:

It is fundamental to understanding both the market for increasing bicycle transportation and what needs to be undertaken to cater to them.

Turns out that four-part typology fits the rest of urban America pretty well, too. In a new study, set to be presented next week at a major transportation conference, planning scholars Jennifer Dill and Nathan McNeil of Portland State University report a similar national breakdown based on phone and online surveys of 3,000 residents of the 50 largest U.S. metros. The results align with Geller’s estimates as well as a 2013 analysis of Portland in particular by Dill and McNeil.

From left to right: “strong and fearless,” “enthused and confident,” “interested but concerned,” and “no way no how.” (CityLab)

Dill and McNeil categorized respondents based on their comfort levels in a variety of cycling environments. If you were “very comfortable” on a major city street without a designated bike lane, for instance, you were “strong and fearless.” Those comfortable on streets clearly striped for cyclists, meanwhile, were “enthused and confident.” People earned the “interested but concerned” label if they felt less-than-comfortable on any urban street, regardless of bike infrastructure.

“No way no how” described those who were “very uncomfortable” even on a completely segregated bike path or trail, or strongly disagreed with a survey item about wanting to ride more than they do now. Folks who were physically unable to ride were placed in this category, too.

Broad classifications of this sort carry natural limitations. Even a slight adjustment to the rules can result in different breakdowns. Putting people who were “somewhat comfortable” on a major street without bike lanes in the “enthused and confident” category, rather than the “interested but concerned” pile, would increase the E-C group’s share to 14 percent and reduce the I-C share to 44 percent.

But the results still reveal a lot about rider behavior—especially among the “interested but concerned” cluster, the largest crowd and arguably the type most likely to change their habits in the right city setting. Of the three main riding groups (“no way no how” excluded), for instance, the I-C type were the least likely to use their bike for reasons other than leisure, such as commuting or shopping trips. Some of the key factors in that decision included feeling unsafe in traffic, having few bike lanes nearby, or living too far away from key destinations.

A closer look at the comfort preferences of I-C riders also shows a big gap in the types of streets they feel safe traveling. When it comes to using a major city street with a striped bike lane, for instance, nearly all “strong and fearless” or “enthused and confident” riders felt “very” or “somewhat” comfortable, whereas only 32 percent of I-C felt “somewhat” comfortable and none felt “very.” But on more separated types of environments—such as protected lanes on major streets or bike boulevards—the clear majority of I-C riders feel good to go.

CityLab

Together these findings suggest local initiatives to expand bike infrastructure and encourage mixed-use development might prove especially attractive to those city residents on the fence about cycling. In further support that policymakers would be wise to target this rider type, Dill and McNeil found that I-C folks liked driving less than the other groups. In other words, they “may be primed to switch.”

Trying to convert the “no way no how” types, meanwhile, seems like a fool’s errand. This group liked biking, walking, and taking transit significantly less than the other groups did, and indicated that these factors were not important to them when choosing a neighborhood to live in. As Dill and McNeil put it: “Clearly, they are less interested in any modes other than driving, not just bicycling.”

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