IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Examining the Cycle: How Perceived and Actual Bicycling Risk Influence Cycling Frequency, Roadway Design Preferences, and Support for Cycling Among Bay Area Residents

Listed author(s):
  • Sanders, Rebecca Lauren
Registered author(s):

    This dissertation investigates the connection between perceived and actual bicycling risk, andhow they both affect and are affected by one’s attitudes, knowledge, behavior, and experiences. Understanding bicycling risk has gained importance as efforts by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and others have urged communities to increase cycling for its health, environmental, and social equity benefits. Research has identified numerous barriers to increased bicycling in the U.S., including topography, weather, and trip distance, but the barrier that appears most consistently between studies is the perceived hazard associated with cycling near motorists. Yet, little research has fully explored the concept of risk to understand its component parts, including how 1) various driver actions affect perceived and actual cycling risk, 2) reported crash statistics reflect perceived and actual risk, 3) roadway design preferences are affected by perceived risk, and 4) attitudes toward cycling and cycling risk—especially among drivers—influence support for bicycling in one’s community. A deeper understanding of perceived and actual risk is critical for knowing how to address it, and, ultimately, to encourage more people to bicycle. To begin to answer these questions and demystify bicycling risk, this dissertation employs three main methods: focus groups, an online survey (n=463), and an analysis of reported crash data from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the regions at the forefront of cycling efforts in the U.S. My findings confirm that perceived and actual cycling risk influence the decision to bicycle, but indicate that the causal pathways are more nuanced than previously understood. First, my data suggest that cyclists experience two types of roadway risk: pervasive risk in the form of near misses that occur frequently, and acute risk that occurs when a cyclist is struck—a less frequent, but more injurious incident. Both types—but particularly near misses— significantly affect perceived risk for cyclists and their family and friends, yet we lack systematic data on near misses and are therefore almost completely ignorant about the extent and effect of their occurrence. Routinely-collected reported crash data provide only limited insight into the type and extent of risk cyclists experience. Second, roadway design preferences are significantly related to perceived risk, and particularly important for attracting new cyclists. Surprisingly, drivers and cyclists both prefer roadway designs with separated space for bicyclists, particularly if barrier-separated, regardless of cycling frequency. Shared space designs are less popular among drivers and much less popular among cyclists, particularly for people who might consider cycling but do not currently do so: only a tiny fraction of potential cyclists feel comfortable sharing space with drivers on commercial streets. Third, perceived cycling risk extends beyond fear of danger for oneself, and is significantly related to support for cycling in one’s community. Structural equation models of perceived cycling risk, attitudes, and behavior revealed that respondents are affected by their perceived risk as cyclists, but also as drivers sharing the roadway with cyclists they view as “scofflaws†, and the risks they project onto other cyclists—particularly those cycling with children. This multi-pronged belief in cycling risk significantly negatively affects bicycling support, including support for new bicycle facilities and public funding to encourage cycling. Based on these findings, I propose a revised theoretical framework for conceptualizing cycling risk and its influences. I conclude the dissertation with policy recommendations for addressing perceived risk.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:;origin=repeccitec
    Download Restriction: no

    Paper provided by University of California Transportation Center in its series University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers with number qt6ct7x8hp.

    in new window

    Date of creation: 01 Aug 2013
    Handle: RePEc:cdl:uctcwp:qt6ct7x8hp
    Contact details of provider: Postal:
    109 McLaughlin Hall, Mail Code 1720, Berkeley, CA 94720-1720

    Phone: 510-642-3585
    Fax: 510-643-3955
    Web page:

    More information through EDIRC

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    in new window

    1. Vredin Johansson, Maria & Heldt, Tobias & Johansson, Per, 2006. "The effects of attitudes and personality traits on mode choice," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 507-525, July.
    2. Tilahun, Nebiyou Y. & Levinson, David M. & Krizek, Kevin J., 2007. "Trails, lanes, or traffic: Valuing bicycle facilities with an adaptive stated preference survey," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 41(4), pages 287-301, May.
    3. Sanders, Rebecca L & Cooper, Jill F, 2013. "Do All Roadway Users Want the Same Things?," Institute of Transportation Studies, Research Reports, Working Papers, Proceedings qt1zn7w26v, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Berkeley.
    4. Broach, Joseph & Dill, Jennifer & Gliebe, John, 2012. "Where do cyclists ride? A route choice model developed with revealed preference GPS data," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 46(10), pages 1730-1740.
    5. Slovic, Paul & Finucane, Melissa L. & Peters, Ellen & MacGregor, Donald G., 2007. "The affect heuristic," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 177(3), pages 1333-1352, March.
    6. Schneider, Robert J., 2013. "Theory of routine mode choice decisions: An operational framework to increase sustainable transportation," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 25(C), pages 128-137.
    7. Pucher, John & Buehler, Ralph & Seinen, Mark, 2011. "Bicycling renaissance in North America? An update and re-appraisal of cycling trends and policies," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 45(6), pages 451-475, July.
    8. Johnson, Emily S. & Ragland, David R & Cooper, Jill F & O'Connor, Terri, 2005. "Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Evaluation for the City of Emeryville at Four Intersections," Institute of Transportation Studies, Research Reports, Working Papers, Proceedings qt89r2j4p5, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Berkeley.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cdl:uctcwp:qt6ct7x8hp. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Lisa Schiff)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.