We all know the benefits of cycling as a way to commute. It improves health, reduces air pollution, and makes traffic less terrible. So, why don’t more people bicycle to work? New research says that it has a lot to do with the type of neighbourhood people live in. So, how do we make neighbourhoods more appealing to cyclists?

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“Bicycling contributes to urban vitality and, as a planner, I was interested in what the most influencing factors could be to make people be willing to choose a bicycle to commute,” said Yujin Park, lead author of a new study published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use.

The study was based on a survey of 1,200 people who commuted to Ohio State, one of the largest public universities. Previous studies looked at commuters’ perceptions about commuting and their attitudes. This research takes a new angle – it adds neighbourhood data to the picture.

It’s not the number of cyclists, but rather the infrastructure built for them, like separated and protected bike lanes, that do the job. © Profimedia, Alamy

The type of neighbourhood matters

The study found that people who live in high-density neighbourhoods (vibrant downtowns or near large college campuses) are more than 2x as likely to commute by bike than their peers in medium-density areas and 3x as likely than people in suburban or rural areas. This applied even to “bike friendly” suburban areas. People who live in those are more likely to cycle for fun and fitness but not to commute to jobs or school.

More bike trails and parking

About 12.6 % of people surveyed were cyclists and about 5.4 % reported that a bicycle is their main mode of transportation. Most of the surveyed bicyclists said they would commute by bike more frequently if they had access to more bike trails, bike sharing, and covered parking for their bikes.

A covered bicycle parking in Utrecht, Netherlands. © Profimedia, AFP

Safety is important to get new people cycling

For people who don’t ride a bicycle, safety was the biggest concern. They were afraid of both other vehicles on the road and of crime.

These findings indicate that if campuses, cities, and regional planners want to increase the percentage of people commuting by bike, they should focus on protected bike lanes, bike paths, and bike parking near downtown and campus areas.

“The conditional willingness to ride a bicycle to commute gradually decreases from high-density neighbourhoods to low-density, single-family neighbourhoods,” Park said. “The people who live in those higher-density neighbourhoods are the most likely to commute by bike,” Park said. “Removing obstacles for them might make the most sense for where we invest our resources.”

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