Understanding and Measuring Bicycling Behavior: A Focus on Travel Time and Route Choice

Jennifer Dill, Portland State University


With rates of obesity, heart disease, and related health problems increasing in the U.S., health professionals, planners, and policy makers are looking for ways to increase physical activity through changing urban form. While much of the focus is on walking, bicycling offers many benefits and warrants further research. According to the 2001 Nationwide Household Travel Survey (NHTS), over 60% of all personal trips are five miles or less in length – a reasonable distance to ride a bike – and nearly 40% are two miles or less. Despite the potential, only about one percent of the trips people make in the U.S. are on bicycles, including less than five percent of trips under ½ mile. In contrast, bicycling is a popular form of recreation throughout the country. There is very little research in the U.S. on bicycling. What does exist provides some general indications, but is limited in scope and often employs unreliable methods (BTS, 2000). An on-going project at PSU’s Center for Urban Studies is starting to fill those data gaps. Specifically, the project is: 1. Examining the relationship between urban form and people's decision to bicycle; 2. Examining other intervening factors influencing the decision to bicycle, such as weather, topography, attitudes and perceptions, and socio-demographics; and 3. Testing the use of readily available technology (personal digital assistants with GPS) to objectively measure physical activity of bicyclists. That project first included a phone survey of Portland area residents about bicycling behavior. The second part of the project, currently underway, involves 150-200 bicycle riders carrying a PDA/GPS unit with them when they ride. Results of this part of the project will address questions about actual bicycle use, in addition to testing the ability to accurately measure bicycle use with such a device. Data collection is scheduled to end in mid-summer 2007. This new project supplements and builds upon that work in two ways: 1. Collect GPS data from an additional 100 bicycle riders. Recruitment for the additional participants will focus on people with demographic characteristics and located in areas that were underrepresented in the original sample. This will allow for more robust results. 2. Analyze all collected GPS data to answer additional questions. The current project focuses on developing and testing the PDA/GPS technology and analyzing bike riding in relation to urban form variables. The proposed project will evaluate the following new questions, among others: • What is the difference in travel time between bicycling and driving? • How does this difference vary spatially? • How do cyclists’ routes differ from the shortest network distance? • How do cyclists choose their routes? How do network characteristics (e.g. bike lanes or heavy traffic) influence those decisions?

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
September 30,2008
UTC Grant Cycle:
OTREC 2007
UTC Funding: