Veronica O. Davis thinks “bike to work” is the wrong message.
“Bike advocates need to focus on recreational trips. If you start off with, hey, you should bike to work, it becomes overwhelming for a lot of people. But if you start with getting people who have access to a bike to go for a ride with you on a trail, they might eventually start to ride to the grocery store or to work.”
TDM Takeaway Better data about all types of bicyclists could help planners improve bike infrastructure and allow people to be more knowledgable and confident about riding.
Davis said this to the 60 or so people in attendance at a recent staff meeting for Arlington County Commuter Services, the Virginia county’s transportation demand management (TDM) agency.
“We have pretty decent data on biking for commuter purposes. We really don’t have decent data on who’s doing recreational biking. We tend to take commuter data and extrapolate it out,” Davis added.
But Davis, who recently co-founded Black Women Bike DC and is a principal at consulting firm NspireGreen, knows that lots of people bike who are not being counted in the data. Commuters, recreational riders, and kids in neighborhoods are all people with access to bikes. And those without access may live near a bikeshare station or have one in the garage or basement that just needs fixing up.
She said there are also misperceptions about who bikes, including that African Americans and Hispanics don’t bike. But, in Washington D.C., for example, Davis said she’s seen 200 bikes parked outside of the E Street homeless shelter, which is largely populated by African-American men who bike. In Columbia Heights, she counted about 30 Latinos riding bikes to shift work around noon one day, which means they are not counted in bike commuter data that only looks at rush-hour rides.
As for messages to get people on bikes, along with focusing on recreational trips, people need to be reminded to try being multimodal – like taking bikeshare to work and the Metro or Uber home.
Davis said drivers don’t want to be told to watch out for bicyclists. But if, for example, people are driving too fast in your neighborhood, have the city put in bike lanes or markings, and the drivers will slow down without being confronted.
To address the barriers to biking such as its perceived danger, its inconvenience, and its difficulty, Davis recommends that there is lots city planners can do. Intuitive signage, visible parking racks and good apps for bike-parking, and fix-it stations in neighborhoods that don’t have bike shops are all easy options.
Photo by M.V. Jantzen