Talking Headways Podcast: Dear Bike People

podcast icon logoDo people of color and low-income people ride bikes? Not as much as they could, given all the great benefits biking offers, particularly to people without a lot of disposable cash. But yes, non-white and non-rich people ride bikes — in high numbers compared to the general population, by some measures.

Even though they’re biking the streets, people of color and those with low incomes are largely missing from the bicycle advocacy world. The League of American Bicyclists, along with many other advocacy organizations around the country, are out to change that. We covered the League’s report on equity in the bicycling movement last week — but there was still lots more to talk about.

So Jeff and I called up Adonia Lugo, who manages the equity initiative at the League. We talked about what local advocacy groups can do if they want to reach out to new constituencies, whether infrastructure design really needs a multicultural perspective, and how the movement can start “seeing” bicyclists that don’t fit the prevailing stereotype.

We know you have strong feelings about these issues. Tell us all about ’em in the comments  — after you listen.

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  • Tanya, check out the scene in San Jose California where people of color and low income are beginning to own the bike advocacy conversation. Super interesting to watch.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The number of people commuting by bicycle in each income group are less than 2% of the total commuters according to Census Bureau survey results. These are pathetically low results, not high numbers.

    Creating more choices for transportation is not a means of gentrification or a way to exclude people. Installing bicycle infrastructure encourages more people to use a type of transportation that is very low cost and increases their opportunities for jobs by widening the geographical area that they can get to and can also make it easier to reach major transit lines that give better service than a typical bus route.

    What needs to be asked is why the bicycling rate is so low in every income category in relation to the number of people in that same income group who commute to work by walking. The human motion to get a bicycle to move is very similar to walking and a person can go three times further in a half an hour bicycling than they can walk. Its obvious that the main reasons for a much lower rate for commuting by bicycle is that bicycling doesn’t feel safe enough, comfortable or easy to use.

    When there are no low-stress places to ride a bicycle or a place to easily store it when you get to your destination, then how useful can a bicycle be to most people regardless of income or the color of their skin?

    If you want to get a much higher proportion of the population bicycling then it would make more sense to try and replicate what has been shown to work in countries and cities that have a much higher proportion of the population that bicycles.

    By far the highest share of bicycle commuters in any U.S. city is Davis California at 24.5% (Boulder comes in a distant second at 11.1%). Part of that is due to a high proportion of the residents being college students. But, Davis has more than double the percentage of bicycle commuters compared to other cities in the U.S. that have a large proportion of residents who are college students, such as Boulder.

    Why is that?

    Could it be due to Davis installing bike lanes on over 95% of their arterial streets and having an equal number of miles of bike paths. Los Angeles has 3,000 miles of arterial/collector streets. Putting bike lanes on 95% of those streets would be 2,850 miles of bike lanes and adding a equal number of miles of bike paths would bring that total to 5,700 miles of bike lanes and paths. Los Angeles currently has about 450 miles of bike paths/lanes.

    Could it be that the main reason that LA has a 1.2% bicycle commuting mode share, and Davis 24.5%, is that Davis has 12.6 times more miles of bike paths/lanes per miles of arterial streets than LA does? Davis also has a far greater proportion of miles of bike lanes/paths per square mile than any other U.S. city. There is a strong correlation that this is a large contributing factor in why this city also has by far the highest proportion of workers who commute by bicycle.

    Which country in the world has the highest percentage of the population who bicycle regularly and also has the highest quality and extensive network of bicycle infrastructure? The answer is the Netherlands.

    Mark Wagenbuur, the author of the BicycleDutch blog, gave his perspective on what he saw for bicycle infrastructure in Chicago, San Francisco and Davis:

    http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/us-cycling-from-a-dutch-perspective/

    Los Angeles installed about 160 miles of bike paths and bike lanes in fiscal years 2012 through2013. The result was that there was a 20% increase in the number of people stating that they bicycled to work on the Census Bureau 2013 household surveys. There will likely be a total increase in bicycle commuting of about 40% as a result of the amount of bicycle infrastructure that has been installed in the last three fiscal years. This increase is likely to be at least partially due to more people in lower income areas bicycling to work mainly as a result of simply striping bike lanes on the streets. Little, if any, promotion or information was made about these bike lanes. Yet, this produced a far greater increase in bicycling than years of trying to get people to bicycle more by talking to them or trying to get them more involved in the process.

    Why don’t the poor and more people of color participate in meetings? Those that do participate frequently tend to have been to college. Which is a contributing factor in why Adonio Lugo and Tanya Snyder are writing these articles and participating in the interviews.

    I have to include a video of a musician of “color” singing his song crucify your mind. He was born in Mexico. He has mainly worked at hard manual labor and been poor for most of his life:

    It would be very unlikely that a uneducated person could write a song like this. He has read a lot in his life and has a degree in Philosophy.

  • Kevin Love

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…

    In The Netherlands, minority immigrant communities have double-digit cycling mode share. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/08/distances-fuel-usage-and-integration.html

    An exception is the Turkish community, which has “only” a 9% cycle mode share. But that appears to be due to religion rather than race, as Islam discourages women from cycling. Islam discourages women from many other things as well, but that’s off-topic for this blog.

    See, for example, the government’s profoundly disturbing billboards in the Islamic Republic of Iran at:

    http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/iran-billboards-samimi.html#

    An excerpt:

    “Ehsan Mohammad Hassani… responded to questions and criticism about the illustration appearing on newly installed billboards in the capital. When asked why there is no mother shown in the picture of a happy family pedaling a tandem bike, he answered, “Out of concern for appearing to promote cycling for women, we decided to exclude the family’s mother from the picture.”

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