There is a growing body of research tackling the question of why people choose to ride a bike instead of driving (and vice-versa). In a sense, the question of whether people will choose to ride boils down to a simple concept: how much friction is involved in the choice to ride versus driving?
Friction can show up in a lot of places. Is your bike buried in the back of the garage? How hard is it to find the bike lock, and where is that key, anyway? What sort of clothes do I have to wear today, and how compatible are they with riding a bike? How hard is the ride, and how safe or vulnerable will I feel on my bike route? How hard will I have to look to find a good spot to park my bike, and what are the odds that it gets wet in the rain or stolen while I’ve left it? If I’m going to sweat on my ride, how easy is it for me to shower and change?
For hard corps bicycle commuters, most of these don’t seem like real barriers . . . the committed riders figure them all out one way or another. And the non-bike-commuters, because they themselves don’t bike to work or to run errands, often don’t really see or understand the points of friction. But for people that are on the fence – they could choose to ride a bike sometimes or might just decide it’s not worth the trouble after all – every point of friction is another reason to pick another option. And even when the friction is perceived rather than real (parking your bike downtown might be a lot easier than parking your car, but you don’t really know where to park your bike and you know the car routine well), it creates just as much of an obstacle.
The challenge, then, for city planners and electeds and cycling promoters, is to find those barriers and nudge them out of the way.