Biking! A favorite weekend activity of mine and now the way I commute to work. I didn’t always commute to work though. It took me years to work up the courage, and after doing some research, I found out why. Urban bike infrastructure is created with men in mind–specifically white men. Let’s look at the ways urban biking has left women and people of color behind; and what cities are doing to be bike inclusive.
Women and Urban Biking
According to the Bike League, in 2009 women accounted for just 29% of bike trips, despite a majority of women holding a positive view of bicyclists and a belief that biking makes their community better.
If women hold these positive views, what prevents them from cycling?
According to Curbed, while most every cyclist agrees that protected bike lanes are a must, women want safer routes, free from harassment. Outside Magazine spotlights the many ways bikers who identify as women are harassed on bikes. From yelling lewd comments to revving engines and cutting off bikers, there is a lot to contend with when biking. It’s heartening that many of these women profiled in Outside continue to bike, but it also prevents a majority of women from ever getting in the saddle.
New York City has one of the largest bike share programs with their CitiBikes. 2017 data shows, however, that women make up only 33% of their riders (Medium). Surprisingly, Seattle has the largest gender gap. Only 41,000 women bike as compared to 92,000 white men.
Multiple studies also cite that many workplaces do not provide adequate bike parking, nor do they provide adequate facilities for women to shower or change.
People of Color and Urban Biking
Women may feel biking infrastructure doesn’t include their needs, however, if they are white and wealthy, there are more resources available to them as compared to communities of color–despite Latino, African American, and Asian cyclists representing the fastest growing bike population (Bike League).
Nothing can draw a more stark comparison between white bicyclists and bicyclists of color than fatalities. According to the Bike League, bike fatalities are worse for Latinos (23%) and for African Americans (30%) when compared to white cyclist fatalities.
Much like women, people of color want safer infrastructure, and when it is built, people use it. In New Orleans, a bike lane on South Carrollton street saw increased African American ridership by 51% (Bike League).
Access to bikes is also a problem. Many bike share programs are set up in affluent parts of cities first, and less affluent later on. Cities like San Jose and the East Bay Area actually blocked bike share in their communities for fear of gentrification and that the bike share didn’t include them in their plans (Governing.com).
So how do we make everyone safer while expanding biking and bike options in our cities?
I will state the obvious first. Include a diversity of people at the decision-making table. This includes not only women and people of color, but people of all abilities. Fortunately, there are some cities doing just that!
Philadelphia is the first city to place a priority on bike inclusion. The city started by including bike stations in under-served communities, offering cash payment options, as well as, discounts to people on public assistance. According to recent data, the city exceeded it’s goal for bike ridership among people of color and under-served communities.
Detroit is taking the lead on an adaptive bike program, MoGo. MoGo is a bike-share program specifically designed for people who may not be able to access a standard bike. In the first year of the program, riders logged more than 200,000 rides. Additionally, they sold over 140,000 daily passes for their fleet of bikes.
Beyond providing bike access, providing safe, sensible bike infrastructure ranked high for all under-represented bicyclists. Medium, conducted a study in Oslo, and discovered that women ridership increased in areas that included safe infrastructure near high employment areas for women (e.g., hospitals, schools, etc). This study demonstrates that when we look at where women and people of color bike, we can increase ridership in those areas with bike lanes, protected bike lanes, and additional bike parking.
Additionally, in Denver councilman Albus Brooks is working to influence fellow councilmen and black leaders by planning reoccurring cultural bike rides. Specifically, Brooks plans rides in different communities, where decision-makers can truly experience the lack of infrastructure. In a report by People for Bikes, Albus is also demonstrating cost-effective infrastructure strategies to encourage more biking from under-served communities and people of color.
Unfortunately, no clear cut solutions exist, but that is because each city, community, and rider is different. It will take all of us continuing to mount pressure on our decision-makers to encourage them to make safe biking infrastructure a priority for all neighborhoods and bikers alike.