What it Takes to Sell Biking to North Americans

A first-of-its-kind study funded by the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project in partnership with transportation departments in San Francisco and Portland on selling biking to the masses.

What can marketing techniques teach us about getting more people on bikes?

In a first-of-its-kind study, funded by the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project in partnership with transportation departments in San Francisco, CA, and Portland, OR, and Portland-based firms NORTH and Wild Alchemy, researchers set to find out how to better sell bicycling.

“Companies invest huge amounts of money in this sort of research in order to understand their markets and how to grow them,” said Green Lane Project program manager Zach Vanderkooy. “Political campaigns use research like this to craft effective data-driven messages to their constituents. Bicycling can benefit from the same techniques.”

The study identified “swing voters”, people who didn’t regularly ride bicycles but weren’t opposed to starting. Identifying the concerns, needs, and what appeals to this group can help advocacy groups, politicians, planners, and anyone else involved in building better support for biking.

The resulting report, Selling Biking: A New Study on the “Swing Voters” of the Street, identified four aspects of the study’s findings that can impact support for better biking: perceived safety, bike images, language, and safety. “Even if they don’t personally bike, what images make them feel best about bikes and bike infrastructure?” asked the report authors. “And what messages do they feel best capture the benefits of biking to individuals and to the city?”

Regular readers of Momentum Mag will no doubt be unsurprised by some of the findings. That protected bike lanes are both a way of overcoming potential riders’ safety concerns and a way of portraying bicycling as an attractive mode of transportation has been clearly demonstrated by both the rise of ridership on these routes and the diversity of riders found using them. The fact that routes with protected bike lanes also boost actual safety bears mentioning.

The report also calls into question more complicated topics such as the language used to describe infrastructure that supports bicycling as well as a safety paradox. The study found that the word “safe” in relation to bicycling facilities was regarded as negative and that public messages about bicycling tied to safety can be alienating. “We don’t need to do anything to reinforce people about the dangers of bicycling,” said Jeff Miller, CEO of the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Biking and Walking. “There’s already a bias way stronger than reality about how safe or dangerous bicycling is.”

A series of posts on the Green Lane Project blog will cover the findings of the study over a week. Find them here: peopleforbikes.org

1 Comment

  • Samuel

    How ’bout comfortable, uncomplicated, and easy-to-use upright bikes?

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