Why a Struggling Industrial City Decided Bikes Are the Way Forward

Reading, Pennsylvania, isn’t your stereotypical biking mecca. It’s a low-income, largely Latino, post-industrial city of almost 90,000 people.

But without much of anything in the way of bike infrastructure, Reading has the third-highest rate of bike commuting in Pennsylvania and is among the top 15 cities on the East Coast.

Some civic leaders in Reading have seized on the idea of better serving people who bike as a way to improve safety and community, as well as to help reverse the legacy of sprawl and disinvestment.

We’re excited to be the first to post this video from the Portland-based publishing crew Elly Blue and Joe Biel.

The film is part of a short series that Elly and Joe produced to show a broader cross-section of regions and people working on bike issues. They made the films while traveling around America on their Dinner and Bikes Tour.

  • qrt145

    Cities under 100,000 people tend to be small enough that you can bike between the farthest two points in the city in about 30 minutes. That should make cycling an eminently practical mode for people who live and work in the city. Too sad that it doesn’t happen more often.

  • AMH

    It’s really great to see a city focusing on people (low-income, minorities) who already bike, recognizing that their needs and safety matter. I’m curious if they’re facing any bikelash, particularly with measures like replacing city parking permits with bikeshare (an excellent move).

  • AMH

    A major problem with cities of this size is that a substantial number of jobs are now located on the periphery in exurban shopping centers and office parks that are absolutely horrendous for walking and cycling. The video focuses on cycling in the urban center, but I’m curious how many commutes go outside this area (on a county level, this map shows that Berks County residents scatter pretty far).

  • Yes, like many post-industrial cities in the U.S., Reading’s affluent white population fled to the suburbs and exurbs. LOTS of the white commuters that we interviewed do cycle from the suburbs into the city.

  • qrt145

    Agreed, hence the qualifier “live and work in the city”. Lots of people commute across city borders in one direction or the other, but still there must be a good number within the city. Of course, the issue of hostile roads discourages many of those people even if their commute is only a couple of miles.

  • citrate reiterator

    I feel like people (and I include some cycling advocates here) often tend to under-estimate the proportion of lower-income and minority commuters in the US who currently depend on biking. Also, in at least my anecdotal experience, many people in those categories have to take really treacherous routes that wealthier people would never risk… I think if you’re trying to understand how best to improve safety for bike commuters, you need to make sure you’re not just reaching commuters in your own socioeconomic neighborhood.

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