Research blog: A new focus on the interested but concerned

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Sit in on any conversation in the Bikes Belong office these days, and you’ll likely hear three words: interested but concerned. Interested but concerned is a term for the 60% or so of Americans who don’t currently bicycle for transportation but would—if conditions were better.

The creation of Portland, Oregon planner Roger Geller, interested but concerned is one of his four classifications for American adults that describes their participation and attitudes about riding a bike for transportation. It’s also the ticket to improving the future of bicycling.

Geller describes the four groups as follows:

  • Strong and Fearless (1%): These are the people who will ride regardless of the presence of bicycle facilities. They are highly skilled and proud self-identified ‘bicyclists.’ Riding is a strong part of their identity.
  • Enthused and Confident (6%): These are committed riders who appreciate the benefits of bicycling. They are comfortable sharing the roadway with automobiles when necessary, but they prefer facilities like bike lanes and bicycle boulevards. They appreciate streets that have been redesigned to make them work well for bicycling. Most Americans who ride regularly for commuting and short trips fit in this group.
  • Interested but Concerned (60%): These citizens are generally positive-minded about bicycling. They are hearing messages from a wide variety of sources about how their city or town is working to become more “bicycle-friendly” and about the need to lead more active lives. They may even enjoy bicycling occasionally, fondly remembering childhood bike rides, or the rail-to-trail path they rode last summer on vacation…and they would like to ride more often. But, they are afraid. They are intimidated by cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle if a driver runs a red light, or passes too closely and too fast, or if they have a flat tire far from home. They feel uncomfortable sharing space with fast-moving cars—even where there are bike lanes. They would ride more if they felt safer—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets and bike facilities that provide physical separation from cars.
  • No Way, No How (33%): Members of this group are not potential transportation bicyclists. What stops them? Key factors are lack of bicycling experience, poor physical condition, or simple lack of interest.

To grow bicycling participation in the U.S. advocates have realized we must do a better job of making bicycling appealing to the interested but concerned. That’s why Bikes Belong launched the Green Lane Project—a program that is increasing the number of next-generation protected bicycle networks in the U.S. Since the interested but concerned need more than traditional bike lanes to feel comfortable riding, we must build more of these protected spaces.

Countries like the Netherlands that have appealed to the interested but concerned by building safe, low-stress bicycling facilities have a large population of riders. There, 27% of all trips are made by bike. Conversely, places in the U.S. that don’t appeal to the interested but concerned see low levels of bicycling.

If you concentrate solely on the needs of the strong and fearless, you’ll only see a small portion of people choose to ride—hence the 1% of trips currently made by bike in the U.S. However, American cities like Portland and Chicago that are investing in green lanes have seen the greatest growth in bicycling. During the last decade, bike commuting increased 238% and 159% in those cities respectively. They are appealing to more than the strong and fearless.

Focusing on the interested but concerned can also help get more women on bikes. Currently in the U.S., 25% of all bike trips are made by women. That’s because women are less likely to ride if they don’t feel safe. New research from Portland State University found that 80% of bicyclists classified as strong and fearless category are men. If we concentrate on appealing to the interested but concerned, there’s a good chance we can level some of this inequality.

The interested but concerned label doesn’t apply only to Americans who are contemplating bicycling for commuting or short transportation-oriented trips. Potential recreational riders hold identical safety concerns, and many are also deterred by their lack of knowledge about nearby paths, trails, and loops. They want to bike and will bike, but only if they can do it safety and close to home on a route that is appealing and easy to follow.

Interested but concerned has been a trending topic during the last couple of years. Now, it’s in the spotlight. Geller’s classification is a valuable tool that is helping us better focus our work to improve and grow bicycling in America. Look for the emphasis on the interested but concerned to continue to rise.