How much more would you ride a bike if there were a 0.0 percent chance you would be killed or maimed by a car while doing so? If you never ever had to share the roadway with vehicles flying by ten or 20 miles an hour faster than you?
Probably a lot, right?
That’s what I pick up when I talk to folks about biking. Weather is a factor, sure, but the leading point of hesitancy is something along the lines of “I don’t want to be out there, with cars. I don’t like it. It’s scary.”
The data backs it up, at least according to a recent study out of Melbourne, Australia—where only 1.7 percent of trips are made by bike. The study, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, made the effort of separating out individuals who bike for transportation and those who do so for recreation.
In surfacing the biggest barriers to biking for transportation, survey respondents returned the following:
Four of the top five specifically include cars and five of the top six point to a need for dedicated and protected bicycle space.
Even the point on weather—as similarly highlighted by the site that initially highlighted the study, Treehugger—was car and safety-related as well.
Again, from the study:
“While often assumed to be due to appearance-related issues and comfort levels in colder or warmer weather, there is some evidence that people perceive severe weather as a safety-related issue. This includes concern about surfaces that become slippery when wet such as tram tracks, lower visibility when riding on the road with cars, and other safety-related concerns about being on the road with motor vehicle traffic in suboptimal weather conditions. There is evidence that the impact of weather as a barrier to cycling is dependent on the infrastructure available.”
The other night, heading someplace with my wife and our dog, I had the pleasure of dealing with a number of these top reasons in a single incident.
The road I was traveling on had a recently-painted—though just painted—bike lane, but it being a soggy Seattle winter, it was mostly covered with mushed-up leaves. Having heard from a random stranger recently while discussing ebikes (these conversations are common), you can slip and go down on leaves pretty easily, so I stayed closer to the left edge of the bike lane as I traveled downhill at about 23mph in a 25.
As sometimes happens, an impatient driver blew past us barely a couple feet to our left with their palm pushing through their horn the entire time. I caught up to them at a light ten seconds later.
I used this potentially educational opportunity to ask if they were trying to kill me, my wife and our dog. Or, were they threatening to do so? Maybe just letting us know they could have an ambulance on the way from Harborview if they wanted to?
That’s the thing with drivers, they lose sight of the stakes as they aim to arrive a matter of seconds earlier than they would have otherwise. For them, the momentary misplaced frustration outweighs the fact that I’m trying to get to where I’m going without someone ending my entire existence.
Naturally, many people don’t like those stakes. And they shouldn’t have to deal with them when considering a better way to get around.