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Posts from the "Equity" Category

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African American Cyclists — And Others — Weigh in on Race and Biking

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Yesterday I wrote about a complicated subject: the links between biking and race in the United States.

It’s the first in an ongoing series over the next three months that will finish with a report about ways that marginalized Americans are pushing for protected bike lanes and other quality infrastructure. In our first post, we looked at the fact that African Americans use bikes at a slightly lower rate than other Americans even though African American heads of household are twice as likely to live without a car.

We asked “Why don’t more African Americans ride bicycles?“, and as we hoped, we’ve received many thoughtful replies so far. Here are a few. I’ve boldfaced some of the writers’ key points.

Marven Norman, vice president of the Inland Empire Biking Alliance in central California:

Every single day, I continue to see hundreds of people of color(s) on bikes bumping along on sidewalks or hugging curbs of hostile arterials. Yet, absolutely nothing is done for bikes in those areas where they’re often most needed. For example, there’s not even so much as a ‘sharrow’ in a lot of LA south of I-10. The “MyFiguerora” project stops right by USC and the enhancements on MLK aren’t even worth talking about in the context of connecting the community further than again, USC. The same trend is repeated in other cities all throughout SoCal and is a pattern I’m sure any community activist in other parts of the country can relate to as well: black/brown communities lack bike accommodations.

Then there’s the issue of the metric being used. The fallacy of measuring bike demand/usage solely by ‘commute trips‘ rears its ugly head highest when we’re discussing the segment of the population that has higher unemployment than the population at large. As it is, people are more apt to jump on their bike for a ride to a shop maybe 2 miles away than to ride 10 to get to work. (Yes, I’m aware that of plenty people actually do ride farther than that, myself being one of them on occasion.) Yet, measuring only commutes, especially given the aforementioned biases, continues to result in in the conclusion that there’s no reason to build anything.

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Why Do African Americans Tend to Bike Less?

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, right, in Copenhagen with Downtown Denver Partnership Director Tami Door.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

It took a week in Copenhagen for Albus Brooks to start thinking seriously about bicycling.

The Denver City Council member, 35, had never owned a bike. By the time he headed home from a study tour in Denmark last month, he knew those days were over.

“We biked every day, so I found myself, on a personal point, increasingly happy,” Brooks said, laughing, in an interview last week. “I was a very happy person by the end of that trip.”

So Brooks came home and bought his first bicycle, a Danish-style city bike. When he rode it to a meeting of other African American community leaders, eager to spread his conclusion that bike transportation could be as important as mass transit to improving central Denver, he got a first-hand lesson in the size of the task he had decided to tackle.

“I came in in a suit and a bike helmet,” he recalled. “These were all middle-class African Americans that do not ride bikes. And they looked at me as if I was an alien.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: Square Footage

Welcome to Episode 29 of the Talking Headways podcast. In it, we evaluate the potential of Boston’s attempt to “gentrification-proof” the Fairmount Line, building affordable housing to keep transit from displacing people with low incomes. Too often, the allure of transit raises rents, bringing in a new demographic of people who can pay them — and who, ironically, usually have cars.

podcast icon logoOne innovative way to build affordable housing — and keep your not-quite-grown kids under your watch at the same time — is to build accessory dwelling units, or backyard cottages. They’re a great way to increase density without bringing a lot of cars into the neighborhood, but see if you agree with our conclusion that they have limited utility.

On the other side of the spectrum is the McMansion, object of desire and scorn in equal measure. You might be surprised to hear Jeff’s defense of the 3,000-square-foot house. And as a bonus, you’ll get his distance runner’s analysis of the difference between runability and walkability, in which he circles back yet again to the idyllic nature of his McMansiony suburban upbringing.

Tell us about your childhood and your square footage in the comments. Check us out on iTunes and Stitcher, or sign up for our RSS feed.

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Arizona Police Arrest “Jaywalking” Professor in Racially-Charged Incident

Arizona earned its reputation for police excess yet again recently when an officer demanded identification of an African-American pedestrian — for the crime of walking in a campus street to avoid construction on the sidewalk — and got violent when she refused to produce it.

Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore was walking around some construction on the Tempe college campus last month when an ASU police officer stopped her. Before she could even explain why she was walking in the street, he asked her for ID. When she bristled at the request, he threatened her with arrest. Before long, he had slammed her violently to the ground, her body exposed, and his hands in all the wrong places.

“The reason I’m talking to you right now is because you’re walking in the middle of the street,” Officer Stewart Ferrin told Ore when he stopped her. “That’s called obstruction of a public thoroughfare.”

“I’ve been here for over three years and everybody walks this street,” she replied. “Everybody’s been doing this because it’s all obstructed. That’s the reason why. But you stop me in the middle of street to pull me over and you ask me, ‘Do you know what this is? This is a street — ’”

“This is a street,” Ferrin interjects.

Then he demands that she put her hands behind her back, she demands that he take his hands off her, and trigger warnings start to fly.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Helmet Hair

Did you wear your helmet when you biked to work this morning? Whether you did or you didn’t, it’s up to you. So why are there so many people shrieking about it? On one side, the 85-percenters, overstating the protection helmets offer against head injuries. On the other side, the 3-footers, claiming that it’s actually safer to go helmetless because drivers give you more space and a host of other reasons. Some recent hysteria around bike-share and head injuries fueled this fire. I’m not sure Jeff and I put that fire out with our discussion, but we at least tried to make some sense of it.

Speaking of fiery discussions, did you see the back-and-forth between Colin Dabkowski, a Buffalo News journalist, and walkability guru Jeff Speck after the most recent Congress for the New Urbanism? We clear up once and for all some misconceptions about how New Urbanism’s winners-and-losers strategy does and doesn’t address social equity.

And in between, we take a moment to celebrate a small victory in San Francisco, where a community pushed back against the fire department’s push to widen streets.

Subscribe to the Talking Headways Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher or by signing up for our RSS feed.

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How Road Planners Fail Neighborhoods

Why do neighborhood groups — especially in low-income areas — have such a hard time influencing the design of major road projects? An interesting case study from the University of Colorado-Denver sheds some light.

In the planning of Verona Road in Madison, Wisconsin, neighborhood concerns took a back seat to moving traffic. Image: Google Maps

In the planning of Verona Road in Madison, Wisconsin, neighborhood concerns took a back seat to moving traffic. Image: Google Maps

To examine the barriers to incorporating public health principles into transportation planning, researchers studied the Allied-Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin, a disadvantaged but organized community.

Locals spent years preparing for the redesign of Verona Road, a wide street that carries 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles daily. Although Verona is a major, high-traffic road in the federal highway system, it functions not only as a thoroughfare for vehicles but also a community space, with residential development and neighborhood-serving businesses on both sides.

The study found that neighborhood residents had many concerns about the road, including difficulty and danger of crossing it, and that it was noisy and blighted. But they weren’t very successful at winning support for proposals that would address those concerns.

“Their main concerns were excluded,” authors Carolyn McAndrews and Justine Marcus wrote, “even if some of their ideas were adopted.”

The planning process itself — led by the state, which produced the official Environmental Impact Assessment — presented three major barriers for residents of the neighborhood:

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Milwaukee Transit Advocates Win $13.5 Million Settlement From State DOT

In a Wisconsin lawsuit that’s been closely watched by transportation reformers around the country, local advocates have extracted some resources for transit from a notoriously highway-obsessed state DOT.

After a court battle, the state of Wisconsin has agreed to provide $13.5 million for transit as part of the $1.7 billion "Zoo Interchange" project. Photo: Milwaukee Community Journal

After a court battle, the state of Wisconsin has agreed to provide $13.5 million for transit as part of the $1.7 billion “Zoo Interchange” project. Photo: Milwaukee Community Journal

Settling in federal court with Milwaukee civil rights groups, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation agreed to provide $13.5 million in transit funding as part of the enormous “Zoo Interchange” project.

The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope had argued that the $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange discriminates against people of color in the region, who disproportionately depend on transit.

A federal judge issued an interim ruling in favor of the plaintiffs last year, but allowed planning for the project to proceed. The negotiated settlement will provide $11.5 million over four years to expand bus service in the project area. It will also provide $2 million over four years to improve transit access more generally, through items like real-time arrival data.

“This is good news for a community that has the sad distinction of having a black male unemployment rate higher than 50 percent and the black/white employment gap being number one in the country,” said Patricia McManus of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin in a press release. “It is hoped that through the course of the funded four years, the importance of the routes will be readily seen by the involved counties and the state and efforts will be made to secure other funding for the continuation of the bus routes.”

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Talking Headways Podcast: Escobar’s Escalator

Did you go to the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, last week? Neither did your hosts Jeff Wood and I, but we sure found a lot to say about it anyway on this week’s Talking Headways podcast. Medellín’s remarkable urban transformation — undertaken in the midst of war — has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately for making the city’s transportation infrastructure more equitable.

But first, we talked to our very own Angie Schmitt about the Parking Madness tournament. Did she know Rochester was a winner from the moment she laid eyes on that stunning parking crater? You’ll have to listen to find out.

And finally we turn to Dallas, where local activists are pressuring officials to tear down a 1.4-mile stretch of I-345 to make room for 245 acres of new development downtown. If it happens, it would be a tremendous win for smart urban development over Eisenhower-era car-centrism.

The other big news this week is that Talking Headways podcast is now available on Stitcher! So if you’re not an iTunes person, you’ve got a way to subscribe. But if you are an iTunes person, by all means! Or you can follow the RSS feed. And as always, the comments section is wide open for all the witty remarks we should have made but didn’t think to.

Oh, and despite the fact that we said, “See you next week” at the end out of habit, Jeff will be traveling so we actually won’t be taping a podcast next week. So take that opportunity to catch up on any episodes you’ve missed, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Let Them Drive Cars

South Korea's Cheonggyecheon stream and park used to be a highway. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/25869929@N03/2468502996##Michael Sotnikov/flickr##

South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon stream and park used to be a highway. Photo: Michael Sotnikov/flickr

Quick quiz: What city is the world leader in highway teardowns? San Francisco? Portland? Madrid?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s Seoul, South Korea, which has removed 15 urban highways — and is about to remove another. In this week’s Talking Headways episode, Jeff and I talk about what can take the place of a freeway in a city and why it’s worth it.

We also debunk the argument, made in Atlantic Cities and the Washington Post last week, that promoting car access will benefit people with low incomes. The whole concept is based on a study that basically said that in the 90s you needed a car to get around the suburbs. Not exactly a persuasive justification for automobile subsidies in today’s cities.

We wander down Saffron Avenue and Nutmeg Lane to investigate whether it’s true that cities are losing their smell — and whether that’s really such a bad thing. Then we accidentally trip into a conversation about pheromones and good-smelling men.

What’s your favorite smell in your city? Let us know in the comments.

We’re working on getting the podcast available on Stitcher, which apparently is a thing that exists, but for now you can subscribe on iTunes or follow the RSS feed.

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The Problem With Prescribing “Access to Cars” in the Fight Against Poverty

It goes without saying that the mass suburbanization of the past 60 years has been very bad news for people who can’t afford cars, and it’s getting worse as poverty levels rise in the suburbs.

Every additional car on the road means a slower trip for bus passengers. Photo: Mark Harrison/Seattle Times

In nearly every place America has built since the 1950s, owning a car is a prerequisite for participating in the economy. In The Geography of Nowhere, James Kunstler wrote that we had created a built environment which divides society into two classes of people: “those who can fully use their everyday environment, and those who cannot.”

Given all that, the findings from a recent Urban Institute study are utterly unsurprising. Researchers studied 12,000 low-income families in 10 cities around the United States. And they found that car ownership is linked to several indicators of well-being.

Housing voucher recipients with cars were able to secure places to live in stronger housing markets, with “higher social status” and lower health risks. They were also twice as likely to find employment and four times as likely to remain employed, the study found. (By the way, this isn’t a new finding — studies have shown this kind of effect dating back to at least the 1990s.)

These results demonstrate just what a deep disadvantage low-income, carless families face in the United States, and make a seemingly straightforward case for a better transportation safety net: more compact land use, abundant transit, and safer biking and walking connections.

But that’s not what author Rolf Pendall wanted to get across in a post on Atlantic Cities. Pendall made the case that “access to cars” should be a higher priority for policy makers in the fight against poverty. One of his suggestions is that specially tailored car sharing might be part of the solution for poor families. He also says it’s worth considering how welfare programs can facilitate car ownership. In a follow-up piece by Emily Badger in the Washington Post, Pendall acknowledges that cities need to be built differently, but he also says that “we need to add car access to the list of things to do.”

He’s not arguing that cars are a better long-term solution than better transit, just that, given how deeply car-dependent we have become, giving poor people cars produces a bigger immediate improvement in their life prospects than the hard, piecemeal work of building a more equitable transportation network. Basically, Pendall is saying that helping individuals is faster than fixing the broken system.

It sounds reasonable, but what about the families left behind? Part of the problem with subsidies for cars is that they reinforce the pattern of exclusion that results from building places around cars in the first place. Every additional car on the road adds to traffic congestion and slows down buses. Every additional parking space spreads destinations farther apart, making places tougher to traverse on foot. Giving a poor family a car might help that specific household, but it would harm others at the same time.

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