Posts Tagged ‘equity’

Keeping the invisible bicycle riders invisible

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

From what we’ve heard, Portland is a fine U.S. bicycling city, but that doesn’t mean it’s a relevant model for all cities. That’s a point many national bicycle advocates seem to miss.

We were reminded of that with this recent post by Bikes Belong embracing the city of Portland’s four distinct categories of bicyclists:

  • Strong and fearless
  • Enthused and confident
  • Interested by concerned
  • No way, no how

These categories have limited application in some parts of Detroit, like Midtown or the Central Business District, but for much of the city, they don’t apply. It’s not an inclusive model.

We love the folks at Bike Belong, but embracing this Portland model for all for all of America shows a disconnection with urban areas like the city of Detroit as well as invisible bicycle riders.

Who are the invisible bicycle riders? They don’t fit the stereotyped bicycle rider model that you see in bicycle magazines or on web sites. They use bicycles as transportation but if they could afford a car, they might choose one instead. They don’t have the latest and greatest bicycle — it’s a tool not a lifestyle. They probably don’t wear a helmet. They may be new arrivals to this country and they’re likely to be male. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they were more likely to suffer from crashes.

And they probably do not complete the surveys or studies used to create and support the Portland bicyclist model — certainly even Portland has invisible cyclists.

It’s not just about the cars

The other disconnect is this model’s focus on sharing the road with cars.

Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle. They are generally not afraid of other cyclists, or pedestrians, or of injuring themselves in a bicycle-only crash. When they say they are “afraid” it is a fear of people driving automobiles. This has been documented and reported in transportation literature from studies, surveys and conversations across the US, Canada, and Europe.

Detroit has very low motor traffic volumes on a majority of its streets. Sharing most roads is not a big deal when you have your own travel lane or two. Certainly there are exceptions such as the major spoke roads (e.g. Jefferson, Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, Michigan, and Fort.) Arguably, Detroit bike lanes in many cases serve more as advertisements and for driver education.

At Complete Streets workshops and focus groups, Detroiters have said their primary concern is public safety, not from cars but from insecure vacant structures, stray dogs, the lack of public lighting, etc. Perhaps this helps explain our rapid growth of neighborhood group rides on well-lit bicycles.

Of course, another major issue is most Detroit neighborhoods do not have a bike shop.

These are issues can found in varying degrees in urban areas across the U.S.

If we are committed to building an equitable transportation system, we must be committed to being inclusive, not just of all bicycle riders, but of all parts of the country.