New study on cyclist behaviour

| June 22, 2015
Photo: Mikkel Østergaard

Photo: Mikkel Østergaard

New study by the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and IS IT A BIRD show that all groups of road users experience inappropriate behavior from some cyclists.

Resume and translation of article by Anette Meng and Trine Stig Mikkelsen, Danish Cyclists’ Federation, published on

The largest study on cyclists’ behavior in Denmark

With support from the Danish National Cycle Fund, the Danish Cyclists’ Federation in collaboration with the strategic innovation agency IS IT A BIRD recently completed the so far largest study on different road users’ experience of cyclists’ behavior in Denmark. The study shows that pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike experience cyclists’ behavior as problematic. The results of the study will lay the foundation for the development and implementation of a series of campaign initiatives towards more appropriate behavior.

Bad cyclist behavior not just a problem in cities
The study was compiled of a quantitative part (questionnaire with 2,506 respondents) and a qualitative part (interviews with various types of road users in different parts of the country). Overall, the study shows that inappropriate behavior among cyclists happens frequently in the whole country, and that it bothers the other road users.

The inappropriate behavior mostly occurs in the capital, Copenhagen, and other large cities simply because this is where the concentration of cyclists is highest. But the behavior can also be found in smaller cities and rural areas, though on a smaller scale.

What is inappropriate cyclist behavior?
The most frequently experienced inappropriate behavior consists of cyclists listening to music or using their phone while cycling, turning or stopping without giving sign, riding two or more cyclists side by side, going very fast, turning right on red lights, and overtaking without looking over the shoulder first. Between 37-57% of the respondents experience these types of behavior on a daily basis. There is a tendency for a larger part of the motorists to experience the behavior as annoying compared to other road users.

The tree types of behavior that each of the road user groups find most annoying are:
• Among motorists: Cyclists that ride without lights in the dark, crossing red lights, and using the roadway even though there is a bicycle lane.
• Among cyclists: Cyclists that ride without lights in the dark, turn or stop without giving sign, and overtake without looking over the shoulder first.
• Among pedestrians: Cyclists that ride on the sidewalk or pedestrian street, don’t stop for passengers stepping out of busses, and ride in the dark without lights.

Certain times and places increase the level of annoyance with cyclists’ behavior:
• During rush-hour
• When it’s dark
• At crossroads
• On streets in the city without bicycle paths or lanes

Road rage and the five areas of conflict
The study also showed that road rage, especially shouting and giving the finger is fairly widespread. App. 42 % of the respondents had experienced being shouted at, and 36 % had got the finger by a cyclist. Especially in Copenhagen, the problem is widespread with a staggering 62 % having experienced being shouted at by cyclists.

Paradoxically, respondents seem to describe two different and quite conflicting tendencies in the bicycle culture:
• Of course there need to be rules > < I break the rules when it makes sense
• We all need to be here > < Move it – I’m busy
• I position myself to everyone’s best > < Everyone’s best depends on mode of transport
• I seek eye contact in traffic > < My transport time is my alone time
• Only angry people shout > < I shout when I get startled

So, there seems to be a range of paradoxes that indicate that cyclists often, despite good intentions, get perceived as unpredictable and create irritation and fear among their fellow road users.

Behavior vs. infrastructure
Part of the problem may also originate from the fact that road users have different conditions:
• Motorists have a fixed space on the road, and they have a driver’s license and thus formal training in traffic rules and how to drive a car. They are a fairly homogeneous group with predictable behavior, and as heavy road users, they are expected to take care of the other road user groups.
• Cyclists have not always got a fixed space in traffic since they move between the road, the bicycle lane, and the pedestrian street depending on the infrastructure available to them. They have no formal training and rely on learning by doing. Cyclists are not a homogeneous group, and they have unpredictable behavior, relying more on how the traffic flows than the actual rules. In contrast to other road users, it requires a lot of energy to start, which is why cyclists are very keen on maintaining the flow. As ‘soft’ road users they expect cars to take care of them.
• Pedestrians are separated from all other traffic, the speed is low, and they have an overview and can orientate themselves without problems. There are only few rules, and they don’t use energy to start. They are aware of their own vulnerability, and orientate themselves in order to avoid getting hurt in traffic.

Complex problem – many solutions
The study shows that inappropriate behavior among cyclists is complex, but it also shows that a long list of different players can be a part of securing a more appropriate and less conflictual flow of traffic.

Results from the qualitative study points to a gap between behavior and structure, and that we need to work on both fronts. There is a need for the cyclists to be better at following the rules, but in some cases, the infrastructure does not make sense to the cyclists and should be changed to promote a better traffic flow.

Part of the solution can be different types of campaigns focusing on respect and awareness in traffic. Another part of the solution can be to organize the infrastructure in a way that benefits the cyclists and improves predictability and good behavior. And finally, the traffic rules can be updated, communicated, and enforced in a way that makes sense to the cyclists.

Category: Campaigns, Danish Cycling Know How, Facts and Figures, Research