If we build it, will they come?
Has anyone ever told you that it doesn’t make sense to build bicycle and pedestrian facilities in Little Rock, because Little Rock residents don't bike and walk? Thanks to the annual efforts of volunteer bicycle and pedestrian counters, we know that statement to be untrue. People do bike and walk in Little Rock, and bike commuting appears to be on the rise (Fig.1).
Figure 1. Data from our annual bicycle and pedestrian count, done in mid-September, show that people are biking (and walking - data not shown) and that bike commuting (red bars) may be increasing in Little Rock.
The idea that we shouldn't build bike facilities because of a lack of demand also implies an absence of latent demand, i.e. people would not choose to walk and bike more often if they had better facilities to do so. This is not consistent with trends in other communities. In a study of five U.S. cities, protected bike lanes increased ridership from 21%-171%. In Calgary, Canada, weekday bike trips increased 95% three months after a bike network was installed. New York City built 421 miles of bike lanes between 2007-2014 and bike traffic increased 100%.
One might dismiss this evidence, saying that Arkansas is not New York City. However we have strong evidence for local latent demand as well.
An ArDOT survey associated with their recent Arkansas Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan asked Arkansans about their walking and biking patterns and what factors influence them. ArDOT generously provided us those raw data, allowing us to consider the responses from Little Rock residents (Table 1).
Table 1. The importance of various biking disincentives for Arkansans and Little Rock residents. Note the top reason is a lack of infrastructure and the top four reasons have to do with fear of being hit by an automobile (modification of Arkansas Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan #25, pg. A-11).
What Improvements Would Encourage You To Walk, top responses were (pg. A-8):
1) More walking paths and trails
2) Improved sidewalks
3) Improved buffers between vehicles and pedestrians
These responses not only demonstrate high latent demand for walking opportunities, but provide guidance to the most effective interventions to encourage walking. Building more and better walking facilities would address the most common responses and therefore have the largest impact on increasing walking for transportation and recreation.
The ArDOT survey demonstrates strong latent demand for biking as well.
What Keeps You from Biking More Often, top responses were (pg. A-11):
1) Lack of bike facilities
2) Motorist behavior (safety concern; can be addressed by better facilities)
3) Traffic Too Heavy (safety concern; can be addressed by better facilities)
4) Dangerous Intersections (safety concern; can be addressed by better facilities)
What Improvements Would Encourage You to Bike, top responses were (pg. A-12):
1) More bicycle paths and trails
2) More buffers between bicyclists and vehicles
3) More bike lanes on major streets
As with walking, these responses both demonstrate high latent demand and indicate that the most effective way to encourage ridership is to build more, better quality, and better networked bike facilities.
Little Rock Walking and Biking
Arkansas River Trail
Our volunteer count data demonstrate latent demand as well. The Arkansas River Trail's spatial use pattern for walkers and bikers shows that it is well-used when high-quality facilities exist and poorly used when facilities are absent or of low-quality (Fig. 2).
Figure 2. Little Rock residents and guests choose to walk and bike where our built facilities protect them from vehicular traffic and do not walk or bike nearly as much when those facilities are absent.
Pinnacle Valley Road
The City of Little Rock recently widened Pinnacle Valley Rd. and installed bike lanes as part of the Taylor Loop Connection. Anticipating this improvement, we included the intersection of Pinnacle Valley Rd. and Pinnacle Valley Ct. in the bicycle and pedestrian count last year. In 2016, no bicyclists or pedestrians were observed on either day of the count. This is not surprising given that there were no sidewalks and no bike lanes at that time. In 2017, bike lanes were installed but no sidewalks; 27 bikes were recorded and no pedestrians. We built it and they came.
Quality Matters for Bike Facilities
Some bike facilities are better than others at attracting riders. Not surprisingly, the greater the separation between motor vehicles and bicycles a facility creates, the more the facility encourages ridership (Fig. 3). This is consistent with research conducted by Jennifer Dill and others demonstrating that higher-quality bike facilities (those facilities that better separate bike and vehicular traffic) attract a wider pool of riders (Fig. 4). The largest pool of riders (60% of the public!) are “Interested but Concerned”. If the goal is to increase ridership, it’s critically important to attract this large group (pg. 11). Ridership in this large group is strongly influenced by the quality of bike facilities (Fig. 5).
Figure 3. A bike facility that better separates the cyclist from the motorist is most effective at encouraging ridership for Arkansans (A-11).
Figure 4. A small percentage of the population is willing to bike on a street with no separation from vehicular traffic, but a much larger percentage would bike if that separation existed (pg. 5).
Figure 5. When potential bicycle riders are categorized by their stress tolerance, the largest pool of people fall into the "Interested but Concerned" category (Fig. 5). Designing facilities for this group maximizes the impact on ridership. Quality of the bike facility is critically important in its efficacy for this group and overall. A separated bike lane has a much greater impact on ridership than a standard bike lane Figure from NACTO report, pg. 6.
If We Build It, They Will Come
People often wonder about the efficacy of bicycle and pedestrian facilities to encourage biking and walking in Little Rock as if the question is unanswerable. This is not true. The impact of a connected network of high-quality pedestrian and bicycle facilites has been demonstrated in many communities across the U.S. Latent demand for these facilities has been demonstrated at a statewide level (Appendix A) and in Little Rock through actual usage patterns with and without facilities.
If we build it, they will come.