Last week, alongside 11,000+ transportation professionals from around the world, I attended the 91st Annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. I went to learn what’s happening in the world of transportation research, what the gaps are and how Yay Bikes! might contribute to the conversation. The good news: there is *lots* of exciting bicycle research being done out there, much more than ever before! But for all the inquiry into bike infrastructure, bike sharing programs, cyclists’ behavior and preferences, however, I did notice that one topic continues to be overlooked—cyclist education. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is a single research paper devoted to the subject!
What We Assume About Cyclist Education
Education is among the most elevated of interventions to promote bicycling. As one of the “5 E’s” of bicycle planning, the availability of cyclist (and motorist) education is a major consideration in whether a place is deemed by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) to be a Bicycle Friendly Community. There are a handful of cyclist education offerings, the most established and ubiquitous of which is the LAB’s Smart Cycling curriculum and instructor certification program, based largely on the tenets of Effective Cycling. A competitive methodology called Cycling Savvy is now gaining traction, and of course Yay Bikes! has developed our own How We Roll methodology to teach road riding skills.
It makes intuitive sense, of course, that educating people helps them be more competent, confident cyclists. We hope it makes them more likely to ride their bikes and more safe when they do ride; if we’re honest we probably also believe that, if cyclists would all just behave, motorists wouldn’t hate us quite so much (good luck with that theory!). But what outcomes do we actually achieve when people participate in bicycling education—fewer crashes, more riding, different preferences? Why do people using bike share programs have fewer crashes than those using their own bicycles—are they more experienced or less? Is there a difference between being an ‘educated’ cyclist as opposed to one who is ‘experienced’? To what extent can education get people riding even in the absence of bicycling infrastructure?
I became interested in this topic because I keep hearing the same argument from experienced cyclists: “I don’t want bike lanes, but I want bike lanes so that other people will take up bicycling.” A recent example comes from Consider Biking’s Jess Mathews on ColumbusUnderground:
“The fact is, the want / need for better bike lanes isn’t for you. They are for a lot more people who would try it, who may want to commute but don’t. I want bike lanes for those people. Let’s not forget that while you may be immune to it, there still IS a culture of fear when it comes to bicycling.”
This leads me to ponder—if experienced cyclists don’t want bike lanes except but for other people, then why don’t we just invest in education programs that get everyone experienced? That’s a much cheaper alternative than striping every street with lanes! But again, we don’t know what change occurs when people receive education and/or become experienced. A paper on bicycle infrastructure preferences in Dublin, Ireland, shared at the TRB conference, found that levels of cycling confidence have no correlation to the types of facilities that cyclists would prefer on their routes — pretty much we all want protected, low-traffic spaces with few intersections. When it comes to many of our high-speed arterials, I’d probably concur, experienced and educated as I am. Still, preference is a not necessarily a predictor of actual behavior, and it seems to me that if we have high levels of people riding and low levels of crashes, that is what matters more than anything. Can education make the difference in these factors and, if so, why aren’t we investing more in education programs?
A Proposed Research Statement
Yay Bikes!’ How We Roll bicycle tour has proven to increase cyclists’ level of confidence in four areas: 1) riding a bicycle on the roads, 2) fitting a bicycling to their body, 3) maneuvering a bicycle and 4) understanding bicycle-related law. A more extensive evaluation should be undertaken to discern participants’ riding habits, preference for various types of infrastructure, likelihood to identify as a cyclist, etc. before and immediately after participating in this education program. Follow-up surveys and qualitative interviews at 4–6 weeks would reveal whether increased confidence translates into different cycling behaviors. Research should inform the questions posed in this article and suggest directions for future research into the topic.
OSU, are you listening??!