We’ve concluded our ultra succinct survey of bike friendliness in Los Angeles, and the results are in: 70% of respondents (386 of 552) think LA is *not* bike friendly. At 552 respondents to that main question, “do you think Los Angeles is bike friendly?”, we think we’ve got a pretty good read on the cycling-public’s sentiment. (Download a PDF of the survey questions.)
Over the next few weeks we’ll break down the data in a number of different ways. We’ll compare how people responded on one question against how they responded on another question, to get a sense for how asking the question differently affected their answer. We’ll look at how different user groups feel about bike friendliness and try to divine why. And we’ll look at some of the comments we received. We’ll map the responses, and we’ll talk about the implications of the data. We’ll also reveal some of our plans for the future, and we’ll engage in the great debate – is it a fair to ask “is LA bike friendly?” Some said “no!”
The negative result shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows cycling in Los Angeles. Whether you personally find LA to be bike friendly or not, you must recognize that there is immense frustration with aggressive driving and a city government that is slow to act.
Personally, I was surprised that so many people responded that LA is bike friendly. However, in the end even those that said LA is bike friendly saw lots of room for improvement. 16% of respondents who said LA is bike friendly and answered the question “how long will it take for LA to become bike friendly?” responded that LA will take at least two more years to become bike friendly. 44% said that will take at least five years, or even more!
How long will LA take to become bike friendly?
Overall, respondents think it will take a good while for Los Angeles to become bike friendly. 76% of respondents said that LA would take 5 or more years to become bike friendly at the current rate of improvement. The following chart breaks out responses to the time-to-bike-friendliness question accordin to whether respondents think LA is bike friendly:
As mentioned above – many respondents who said “No” to “do you think Los Angeles is bike friendly” also said that it would take a few years at the current rate of improvement for LA to be bike friendly. A simple hypothesis would be that the 65% of respondents who said Los Angeles is bike friendly, but then went on to say LA will take some years to become bike friendly, didn’t get the question. I don’t think this is the case.
What I think is happening is that if you ask a question different ways, you will tend to get different survey results. This is a common feature of survey work, and many social scientists spend a lot of time just trying to get consistent data when different questions lead to different answers (and compromised pollsters often use it to control the results of survey, such as in Presidential elections.) This is precisely the reason that we asked about bike friendliness three different ways. It gives us three ways to talk about bike friendliness, but it also allows us to study how people answer the question differently. In the long haul that will allow us to better understand what it really means when people say a place is bike friendly.
0 to 10, how bike friendly is Los Angeles?
Which brings us to our other question: how bike friendly is LA on a scale from 0 to 10? This is a classic question, although no one seems to be able to decide if it should be 0 to 10, 1 to 10, 1 to 5, or 9 to 5. At UCLA they use 1 to 9 for teacher evaluations . . . go figure.
The average answer (mean) was 4.25, with 3, 4 and 5 being most common. Some survey respondents gave LA a 9, and one respondent gave LA a 10. I think his mouse slipped. Anyway, in this case a picture really is worth a thousand words:
Some argued that the survey questions were too simple and did not offer enough freedom. Others thought that Bikeside made an error in not clearly defining bike friendliness; they thought we were not specific enough and left too much room for interpretation.
It was intentional. I believe that the ultimate measure of bike friendliness is how the people feel about biking. If the people of LA feel LA is bike friendly, LA is bike friendly. If they feel it is not, it is not. The ultimate measure of bike friendliness is not some carefully calculated “bike score”, but the collective sense that a place is hostile toward or supportive of cyclists. Hence, we asked the simple question, and let each person choose their own criteria for evaluation.
The beauty of this is that in asking a simple question, we ended up with a complex and interesting answer. The question squeeze’s each person’s opinion into a corner (which many found frustrating), and in that sense is reductive. But when we aggregate the answers, we get something remarkable – a nuanced picture of where LA stands on bike friendliness. Unlike a “bike score”, which takes complexity and reduces it to one simple number, we start with simplicity and end up with complexity. That’s life – simple questions have complex answers, and I’m stoked that the results bear that out.