Survey Result: Bike Light Use Good, But Not Good Enough

If you were to stand on a Portland street corner and count how many bicyclists had adequate front and rear lights, what do you think the percentage would be?

Thanks to BTA superstar volunteer Matteo Luccio, we now have an answer to that question. Matteo, frustrated with a perceived lack of bike light use on Portland’s streets, wanted to get the word out about the importance of bike light use. Not content to trust his instinct about the current rate of bicycle light use, he launched Portland’s first Bicycle Lights Use Survey. Over 50 volunteers counted bike lights at 33 locations around Portland on three weeknights between 6:30 and 8:30.

Here are the percentages for what they saw:

Note: These results measure our definition of “adequate,” not the legal definition. Adequate means “visible from one block away,” which is less than the legal standard. Furthermore, the law allows for a red rear reflector in place of a rear light but this survey did not count reflectors, only lights.  “Other” refers to improperly colored lights.

Matteo’s full report on their findings can be found here: 2011 BIKE LIGHTS USE SURVEY RESULTS

In short, 9 in 10 bicyclists had front lights but 1 in each of those 9 were inadequate. That means that only 80% of Portland’s bicyclists had adequate front lights.

It’s a higher number than many of us had anticipated, but it’s still not good enough.  If 1 in 5 motor vehicles didn’t have adequate headlights, we’d have a serious problem on our roads. Portland must work to close the gap in bike light use because it’s very difficult to share the road with people you can’t see.

The BTA is actively working to close the bike light use gap.  Here’s a primer on how you, too, can help us to Close the Gap!


Comments (6)

  1. Susan Permalink  | Mar 21, 2011 02:29pm

    I completely agree that bikers are not adequetly lit, or helmeted for that matter. It’s frustrating being a biker who tries to be as safe as possible, to then watch other bikers not do the same thing. I especially dislike the bikers who wear black at night with no lights and no helmets. I truly wish there was a helmet law in Portland, I’ve been hit by a car (not my fault) and I am so glad I was wearing my helmet. My even more favorite are the bikers who ride with their helmet on their handle bars…I guess what I’m getting at is, maybe we need to do a survey on who’s wearing a helmet…bc bike light or not, if you don’t have a helmet on and you get hit, or hit another biker, you are going to be seriously injured. I wish we could pass some laws on helmets in this town too.

  2. Carl Permalink  | Mar 21, 2011 02:56pm

    Thanks for the encouragement, Susan. It sounds as though we’re likely to disagree regarding mandatory helmet laws, but that is a conversation for a different forum. You’ll be pleased to learn, though, that PBOT already measures helmet use (by gender, even!).

    Here’s their most recent finding: “Helmet use remained the same as in 2009, with 77 percent of all people counted wearing their
    helmet.  Helmet use in 2010 continued to be more prevalent among female riders (83 percent) than for male riders (74 percent).”

    Here’s the city of Portland bike count page:

  3. Kurt Kemmerer Permalink  | Mar 21, 2011 03:09pm

    I’m actually surprised that the percentage is as high as it is. Of course, my perception may be skewed because one always remembers the times one drives or bikes and a biker suddenly appears as a shadow close by. Anyone, I’m very happy that BTA is working on this. I’m wondering if anyone research supports added safety for those wearing bright clothing/gear in addition to lighting compared to those wearing dark clothing even though they have lighting.

  4. Linda Robinson Permalink  | Mar 21, 2011 03:31pm

    I’m a novice bike rider so haven’t ventured out on my bike after dark yet. Still, I installed very good (very visible) front and bike lights on my bicycle, which I use when riding in the daytime.

  5. Ed Lanton Permalink  | Mar 21, 2011 03:38pm

    The results are a bit counter-intuitive in that I would have expected to see higher rates of compliance for rear and much lower for front based on my personal observations. I guess that’s why it’s good to actually run the numbers. Very informative

  6. Matt Picio Permalink  | Mar 21, 2011 08:26pm

    There may be some false negatives on the taillights skewing the numbers. It’s common for people to forget to actually turn their taillight on, which would be listed as “none” (or possibly “inadequate”) even though a taillight was present on the bike.