Understanding the “Four Types of Cyclists”

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Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University
Go to the profile of Alta Planning + Design
Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University
Go to the profile of Alta Planning + Design
Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University

The balance between improved perception of safety and improved connectivity can be difficult to strike. Bikeways are often considered safer if they involve little, if any, interaction between people bicycling and people driving or if greater degrees of physical separation are placed between a bikeway and a travel lane with heavy traffic volumes and/or high motor speeds.

However, some experienced bicyclists may appreciate a more well-connected bikeway network that allows them to enter, exit, and re-enter the bikeway freely and can find separated bikeways to be slow and cumbersome to navigate. To address these trade-offs, we utilize a Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) analysis, which relies on four generalized bicyclist typologies.

Originally developed by Roger Geller at the City of Portland, OR, the “Four Types of Bicyclists” are meant to guide efforts in assessing — in broad terms — what certain segments of a population require or want in a bikeway facility. Geller suggested that Portland’s population could be categorized into the following four groups:

1) Strong and Fearless: People willing to bicycle with limited or no bicycle-specific infrastructure
2) Enthused and Confident: People willing to bicycle if some bicycle-specific infrastructure is in place
3) Interested but Concerned: People willing to bicycle if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place
4) No Way, No How: People unwilling to bicycle even if high-quality bicycle infrastructure is in place

These typologies help us identify which segments of the population need lower stress facilities to try bicycling or to bicycle more often.

Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., at Portland State University, led a survey of adults in the 50 largest metro regions in the U.S. to verify Geller’s theory that roughly 1% of adults identified as “Strong and Fearless”, 7% identified as “Enthused and Confident”, the majority — 60% — identified as “Interested but Concerned”, and the rest — 33% — identified as “No Way, No How”. Dill found that theorized breakdown was remarkably close, with slightly more people identifying as “Strong and Fearless” (7%) and as No Way, No How (37%).

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Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University

To date, many more similar surveys have been conducted, showing some variation by location. We have collected some of these survey results into a single map for comparison:

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Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University

Bicyclist type within a city varies widely based on residents’ previous bicycle facility exposure and experience and city population makeup. A survey that is custom to the community can help to classify the population of that community into four categories of transportation bicyclists.

For example, below are results of a Four Types of Cyclists survey from the Berkeley Bike Plan. 71% of Berkeley residents who responded to the survey fell into the “Interested but Concerned” category.

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Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University

Designing for the “Interested but Concerned”

Cycling has yet to be recognized as a mainstream commuter transportation option for everyday use, especially among more hesitant groups such as children, women, and the elderly. Our logic is that if we make bike networks safe and comfortable for the “interested but concerned”, or majority of the population, then more people will use it, and more people will become physically active.

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Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University

Bike routes that promote bicycling as an everyday option are comfortable for most people and not just for experienced bicyclists. High comfort and low-stress facilities are vital to developing a fully functioning network that accommodates persons of all ages and abilities. What do low-stress facilities look like?

The image below shows the results of a level of comfort survey created for residents of Berkeley, CA. Participants were asked to rate their comfort level with varying types of bikeways and roadway conditions.

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Graphic from Jennifer Dill, Ph.D., Portland State University

Creating a less stressful and more comfortable bicycle network can help to make bicycling more appealing to a broader segment of the population. First, we must identify barriers for people bicycling; this will help us to prioritize bikeway infrastructure improvements that meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities and meaningfully allow people to use a bicycle for transportation purposes.

The less stressful — and therefore more comfortable — a bicycle facility is, the wider its appeal to a broader segment of the population.

A Level of Traffic Stress analysis allows for identification gaps, or high-stress crossings that prevent low-stress connectivity, which leads to intersection improvement recommendations and prioritization of project development. Read about Level of Traffic Stress in the next blog post.

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