State Bicycle Survey Reveals Danger Concerns, Cycling Perceptions

Dec. 15, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — Bicyclists in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are more concerned with being involved in vehicle crashes compared to bicyclists in other Texas cities, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Transportation Research at The University of Texas at Austin.

"This is quite intuitive, given the high levels of traffic congestion in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio," said Professor Chandra Bhat, who spearheaded the survey and is one of the world's foremost authorities on travel behavior.

Chandra Bhat
Chandra Bhat, one of the world's foremost authorities on travel behavior, is Adnan Abou-Ayyash Centennial Professor in Transportation Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo: Beverly Barrett

In addition, almost 70 percent of the survey respondents feel bicycling is "very dangerous" or "somewhat dangerous" in terms of traffic accidents. In contrast, only 21 percent of respondents feel bicycling is "somewhat dangerous" or "very dangerous" in the context of crime.

The survey, sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, was conducted entirely online. The results should help establish planning guidelines for the design of safe and efficient bicycle facilities and environments in Texas and around the country.

Respondents were 18 years or older living in more than 100 Texas cities. The sample included 1,605 bicyclists, of which 810 (or slightly more than 50 percent) used their bikes for commuting. The remaining 795 bicycled only for non-commuting purposes. Each group was presented with questions pertaining to their particular habits.

Bhat said the transportation sector accounts for about one-third of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Within that sector, travel by personal vehicles accounts for nearly two-thirds of those emissions. And only 0.9 percent of all trips in the United States are made by bicycle, and the number drops to 0.4 percent for commute trips—despite the fact that a significant amount of trips are deemed short-distance and can be made using a bike. A 2001 National Household Travel Survey revealed that 41 percent of all trips in 2001 were shorter than two miles and 28 percent were shorter than one mile.

Bhat's research attempts to understand the reasons for the low bicycling use and inform the development of appropriate and effective strategies to increase bicycling, thereby cutting down motorized vehicle use and carbon dioxide emissions while promoting a healthier, more physically active lifestyle.

One finding that may have immediate relevance is that individuals who have a more positive perception of the quality of bicycle facilities have a higher propensity to bicycle to work. In October, Congress passed the Bicycle Commuter Act (as part of the bailout package), which starting in January will give companies a tax credit of up to $20 a month per employee who bicycles to work.

However, only about 14 percent of commuter bicyclists report the presence of bicycle lockers or safe storage rooms at their work place, and 72 percent of commuter bicyclists indicate they travel on unsigned roadways during their commute.

"The frequency and use of bicycling to work can potentially be increased by having bicycle lockers, bicycle racks and showers at work," Bhat said.

He also said two other viable ways to increase bicycling include: land-use strategies to encourage compact developments to reduce commute distances and education/information campaigns to highlight the environmental, financial and health benefits of bicycling.

Bhat and his graduate students, Ipek Sener and Naveen Eluru, will present this research at the National Transportation Research Board Meeting on Jan. 12 in Washington, D.C. His research is supported by the Adnan Abou-Ayyash Centennial Professorship in Transportation Engineering.

Other survey findings:

  • Individuals living in Austin, Bryan and Fort Worth are more satisfied with the quality of bicycle facilities than bicyclists living in the rest of the state.
  • Bicyclists prefer no parking on their route, which is logical because parking reduces sight distance. If parking is necessary, they prefer angled parking over parallel parking.
  • Men and young bicyclists perceive the bicycle facilities in their community to be better than do women and older bicyclists.
  • The commute distance of those who bicycle to work ranges from one-fourth of a mile to 35 miles. The average is about 6.5 miles.
  • Bicycling is more common for non-commute reasons than for commuting. Those who bicycle to work tend to be young and environmentally conscious. Also, men are more likely to bike than women, regardless of the purpose of the bicycle trip.
  • Fitness and health concerns, followed by leisure, are the most compelling reasons for bicycling.

Learn more about Bhat's work. A high-resolution photo of Bhat is available online.

For more information, contact: Daniel Vargas;  Chandra Bhat, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering College of Engineering, 512-471-4535.

21 Comments to "State Bicycle Survey Reveals Danger Concerns, Cycling Perceptions"

1.  J.D. said on Dec. 15, 2008

I'd be curious to know:

1) "What" exactly do the respondents feel is dangerous about bicycling?

2) What are the numbers behind what, or who, is at fault when motor vehicle/bicycle accidents do happen, in the perception of the respondents? Otherwise stated, to what extent do the cyclists typically hold themselves (or fellow cyclists) responsible for traffic accidents? Or is the common perception that it is (almost?) always the motor vehicle's fault?

2.  John Berry said on Dec. 15, 2008

Very interesting. To me, the biggest lack is the near-complete absence of shower facilities at employers in North America. None of the experts on public or alternative transport seem to realize that most of North America is so hot in summer that a shower is required after even a short ride or walk in the open.

The biggest dangers to cyclists are the drivers who pass you and then turn right so that you crash into them. Also bicycle lanes which are either blocked by parked cars or have parking lanes to the right of them, so that you can get doored.

The biggest put-off is the extremely large number of people that scream at you to ride on the sidewalk, often when there is NO sidewalk. If I could write while riding there'd be a lot of people called into the DoT!

I still ride to appointments (I'm retired), but do you need to do fancy surveys to come up with more reasons NOT to ride a bicycle on this continent.

3.  mg said on Dec. 15, 2008

As a commuter, I consider cars and traffic what is most dangerous about bicycling.

Many of the same things that frustrate me as a driver frustrate me as a bicyclist--drivers texting, talking on the phone, and not paying attention. When I have had run ins with a car, they were doing illegal maneuvers.

Cyclists are like cars on the road. We follow the same rules as drivers. There are bad bikers out there, who don't stop at lights or stop signs, who go down the wrong way of roads, who do stupid stuff, but in a car the person is so much more protected.

4.  Shannon said on Dec. 16, 2008

Yes, being yelled at to "ride on the sidewalk" is annoying, particularly because riding on the sidewalk is illegal in most places. I would prefer to ride on the sidewalk, especially when there is no bike lane. Why can't we get it together in this country to integrate automobile traffic, bicycle traffic, pedestrian traffic and public transportation options? The Netherlands is a model for integration of cycle traffic--there are even separate lanes for cyclists, with plenty of secure lock-up facilities at places of business.

5.  helen said on Dec. 16, 2008

Many of my friends ride bikes to work. I appreciate the problems, having heard their stories.

From a driver's POV: Having a bike sail down between two lanes of traffic and through the stop sign is scary.

Above all, I plead with you: USE LIGHTS! at dusk and evening. Too many don't (and wear dark clothes besides)! I can't look out for you if you can't be seen.

6.  Mary said on Dec. 17, 2008

Do bicyclists have insurance like motorists have? Should they be required to have insurance if riding on roads?

So you know my perspective on this, I have family and friends who ride bikes, I don't. I am concerned about cyclists who ride very close to the white line when there is so much room on the shoulder. I'm always worried the cyclists will move too far over into traffic.

7.  Ed W said on Dec. 17, 2008

Is the study available online? I'd like to read it. This news piece portrays the perception of cycling as a high-risk activity, a portrayal that is largely wrong.

8.  JB said on Dec. 18, 2008

I agree that it would be nice for cyclists to have insurance. I believe that most are covered by their automobile policy--if they have one? But should we also require walkers to have insurance? Around UT, there are too few riders who use lights at night, or even reflectors, and there are definitely not enough with helmets--I think helmets should be more strongly encouraged. I am a three-mile bike commuter, and having a showering facility is a big deal for me.

9.  Talitha May said on Dec. 19, 2008

Thank you for your research in sustainability and for promoting social welfare. Articles like this highlight how many university academics implement the Campus Sustainability Policy.

10.  JG said on Dec. 19, 2008

I donated my car to charity a little over a year ago and have used my bicycle (and occasionally my bike trailer) for all of my transportation needs since. I have a few thoughts to contribute:

1. There needs to be better contiguous planning of bike lanes. Take Guadalupe by UT for example...the bike lane goes for several blocks and then just disappears! What is a cyclist on that very busy and dangerous road supposed to do? In Portland practically 70 percent of all the streets have bike lanes and they don't abruptly end constantly. Riding a bike there is like a dream. We should model after their road system.

2. On the subject of showers...I think we need to take a more historical look at hygiene in the U.S. It's only been in the last 50 years that air conditioning has become commonplace. In many parts of the world it still doesn't exist. With the coming of peak oil (Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about) people are going to have to revert to more realistic standards. People need the freedom to seem like people, not chemical odor masking products. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for being clean, but if I sweat on the way to work I might not smell like I just stepped out of the shower all day...and I think that should become OK again.

Bikers, use good lights! Wear helmets! Obey the traffic laws! Enough said.

P.S. The insurance companies have done a number on auto drivers by passing laws that everyone must be their customers. Please don't even give them the idea to try and do that to cyclists. Many cyclists use bikes to get around because of the high cost of owning and operating a vehicle. Let's keep cycling affordable for all.

11.  Parker Holt said on Dec. 19, 2008

Cyclists: We can improve the perception of and safety level for cyclists by obeying ALL traffic laws. If you ride, for whatever reason, please obey stop signs, red lights, yield signs, one way streets, etc. I think that we cyclists give ourselves a bad rap when we flagrantly disobey rules of the road. This just fuels the fire for motorists who dislike cyclists.

12.  David said on Dec. 19, 2008

Mary: Car drivers are only required to have liability insurance (to pay for the other guy's car when it's your fault). Bicyclists typically don't make much of a dent when you run over them (or they hit you), so it's really not applicable.

Ed W: This is not a "study" per se, but rather a survey. It does not "portray" cycling as anything, but reports what the surveyed people perceive relative to cycling. It is not the author's fault or responsibility if cyclists perceive their activity to be risky. You said, "This news piece portrays the perception of cycling as a high-risk activity, a portrayal that is largely wrong." He has surveyed 1,605 bicyclists, while you have an unsupported opinion, so I think he wins relative to understanding bicyclists' perception in general.

13.  John Christian said on Dec. 19, 2008

I grew up in Mexico City in the 1940s onward. There were many people who walked, and many who used bicycles. Not all families had automobiles, which seemed to change after WWII. There were trolley cars all over, and they were like the kind one finds in New Orleans today. Passenger railroad service was prevalent. Speaking of bicyclists, mostly of the working classes, in Mexico City, I remember them quite well--they had a different attitude than most of the bicyclists of the Austin area, in particular, that of the university area and campus where the bicyclists are empowered with attitudes far different from those of many cyclists-workers of Mexico City. There were thousands of pedestrians who walked and rode the trolleys and buses, and who often rode bicycles. (Once you get off the bicycle you become a lowly pedestrian, in the eyes of motorists and bicyclists of Austinburg.) I remember that bicyclists in Mexico City had respect for pedestrians.

Around Austin, and, in particular, the University of Texas at Austin area and campus, there is a mixed use, to use a contemporary transportation word, with automobiles, buses, bicycles and pedestrians. Often, it is very chaotic and dangerous, especially if one is a pedestrian, and, also, if one is a bicyclist and even an automobile driver.

I cherish bicycles as I always have, but day by day there are more bicyclists using the campus and sidewalks which are primarily for pedestrians. There are also restricted areas on campus meant principally for pedestrians. There are signs on and off campus which restrict or forbid the use of bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, etc. Yet, it seems that more bicyclists are using pedestrian spaces. While the bicyclists complain constantly that "their rights are being violated" by motorists, et al., they often show little, if any respect, for pedestrians who are walking on and around campus. They complain, often with good reason, that the traffic on Guadalupe Street and on other streets in Austin is dangerous for cyclists. It is also very dangerous for pedestrians. Yet, the cyclists on campus speed along the many sidewalks and walking malls in such a manner that many would consider not only risky but very dangerous to the pedestrians walking, not only those on campus, but also along the many sidewalks around campus, and especially along the Drag area.

What is somewhat ironic is that the city of Austin has stated that it will "crack down on jaywalkers and jaywalking." That it will be a $500 fine. I would venture to say that most people don't even know what jaywalking is, so the city and its illuminated leaders need to be educating its citizens--motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders--what all of this means. Instead of putting all these folks together, they need to have lanes, pathways and roads, etc. that are only meant for one kind of transportation, so they don't get in the way of each other. The cyclists in Austin have an attitude of superiority, and they certainly lack good manners. Long live pedestrians!

14.  Timmy T said on Dec. 20, 2008

I would like to see this study because on the surface I don't see the "why," especially if it was using my tax dollars to fund it. Yes, pedaling a bicycle on a road built for the primary use of a gasoline-powered engine is dangerous inherent to itself, but motor vehicle drivers need to be aware of everything in their "area"--be looking for the other guy.

15.  Joanna said on Dec. 20, 2008

I understand the reason that bike traffic was moved to flow with car traffic, but as a driver I have never gotten used to it. (Especially with children who do the darndest things.) I preferred having bikers coming toward me so that I knew they saw me and wouldn't abruptly pull out in front of the car. Even adult bikers swerve into or toward the traffic lane without warning. Even when they swerve to avoid an obstacle, as a driver, they are between me and the obstacle, and so I have no warning.

In the 'olden' days when I was a rider, and then as a driver, eye contact was what made me feel safe. I've a feeling that electric cars will make the matter worse.

Joanna '62

16.  William Hayden said on Dec. 29, 2008

I have come to see more clearly, after having been recently hit by a car while on a training ride, that the majority of drivers, in some form or another, are oblivious to cyclists, even in a supposedly bicycle friendly city like Austin. In contrast, I notice that many cyclists, especially those who ride "fixies," tend to disregard traffic laws. After speaking with some cyclists, it is apparent that they were ignorant of the bicycle-specific sections of the Texas Transportation Code. No doubt drivers are as ignorant. Mutual ignorance, poor driving and bad cycling behavior are more than likely empirical factors in cyclists' perceptions of their safety and drivers' lack of awareness of or hostility toward cyclists. More effort should be directed to educate both sectors. In addition, a state bicycle license with a test and fee (that could be directed to bicycle infrastructure), might produce better cycling behavior on the roads.

17.  Kay jay said on Dec. 30, 2008

Parker Holt (above) makes excellent points about cyclists abiding by laws. This should cut down on the "yelling" incidents significantly. He uses the phrase "who dislike cyclists." Just a word: I don't dislike cyclists. I am, after having several near misses with cyclists operating illegally, terrified that I could have to live the rest of my life knowing that, although there was nothing I could have done to avoid hitting a person I never saw, I have maimed or, God forbid, killed somebody. If you think about that awful feeling in your gut that you get when you realize you have almost made a fatal mistake, you may understand why people yell at cyclists. It's not because we don't "like" them, it is because we are afraid of them. I'm still looking for my first "Be Kind to Motorists" sign.

18.  L Barker said on Jan. 2, 2009

Safe bike paths would make a huge difference in Austin. I've just moved from Boulder, Colo., where I could ride my bike anywhere in the city, safely, anytime of the year. In fact, when it snows, bike paths are often plowed before roads, showing an obvious commitment on the part of the city to alternative transportation. Cycling in Austin appears extremely dangerous to me. There are clearly models Austin could follow, if the city chose to take cycling seriously as a transportation choice.

19.  Dick said on Jan. 6, 2009

John Berry's comment (#2) speaks the truth. The last three paragraphs say it all for me. I walk and hold hands with my wife, ride the bus in bad weather or get a ride. My bike sits in the garage and gathers dust. Bad street lighting makes it particularly dangerous at night, and a faculty member was killed one night when two heavy metal plates covering a street repair site "caught" his front wheel. He was cautiously avoiding Congress Avenue downtown. Heavy metal and shirts aren't compatible, and helmets are inadequate. Compare Austin with Davis, Calif.! There it's done right.

20.  R B said on Jan. 7, 2009

I wonder why bicyclists favor angled parking over parallel parking. Seems to me that cars backing out of angled spaces represent much more of a safety hazard than cars emerging from parallel spaces.

21.  Tom Riddle said on Jan. 21, 2009

Answer to #20: Because of the chance of being "doored" while cars are parked (see John Berry, #2 above). Cars backing out of diagonal spaces almost always do so slowly and with back-up (white) lights showing. Cars that are parallel-parked are actually much more likely to pull out in your path suddenly.