I hear that phrase a lot. War on cars. First off, it is not pedestrians and cyclists that injure and even kill drivers. That aside, infrastructure improvements aimed at improving non-motorized transit do not always negatively impact traffic flow. In fact, sometimes new designs to implement bike improvements actually help traffic flow. Take the new two-way protected bike lane on 2nd Ave. Yes, the number of through-traffic lanes is decreased from 3 to 2. But anyone who has ever drove in Downtown Seattle knows half the trouble is turning: with so many pedestrians and traffic congestion cars often cannot turn and cause traffic to pile up. The new layout reduces and in some cases eliminates this by introducing a separate turning lane combined with a turn-only signal. Now turning vehicles are removed from the regular flow of traffic and are ensured adequate time and space to turn. Having drove 2nd Ave since the redesign I can vouch for how effective this seemingly small addition can be.
Cycling infrastructure needs to be built and improved because we need safer streets. But we also need smarter, more efficient streets and new cycling infrastructure is designed to make the most of our roadways. For more, Citylab covers the traffic impacts of protected bike lanes in an excellent piece on the redevelopment of several streets in NYC. Thinning lanes and creating turning cut-outs actually improved travel time for motorists!
Here in Seattle Bicycles are booming. Ridership has dramatically increased in the last several years. Just around the corner is Pronto Cycle Share brought to us by the same company that operates CaBi, CitiBike, Divvy, and many other systems throughout the US and abroad. It is a great time to be involved in the biking scene. But there is one serious problem I notice: biking is a class privilege. I usually put it this way: Seattle is on its way to be a biking city, but only if you are a “hardcore” cyclist with a bike worth as much as a used car. Or a hipster. Or both…(laughs)
It is not all hopeless. Bike Works is an amazing organization working to build community through bicycles and education. Operating in Seattle’s south end, Bike Works specifically targets low-income youth through its many programs including Earn-A-Bike where youth learn to repair bikes and receive a bike of their own after completing a number of volunteer hours. Cascade Bicycle Club’s Major Taylor Program introduces low-income youth from diverse backgrounds to the fun of cycling. Pronto Cycle Share will have an affordable annual membership that is on par with just one month of bus fare. Things are happening. But what about the culture? Will low-income and diverse communities take up cycling through these many initiatives? Is this something they even want?
Families learn to repair bikes together at one of Bike Works’ Family Bike Repair events.
Many of us who advocate cycling for its power to enhance social justice seem to think so, but a survey of low-income and predominantly non-white communities around Washington D.C. shows different. I am willing to bet Seattle is not so different, and we could learn a lot by changing our approach to thinking about cycling as an equitable means of transportation.Read CityLab’s full article for a good look at this topic. Here are some of the article’s main points about cycling and low-income, diverse neighborhoods:
- Poor respondents spend more time commuting.
- Most people, poor and non-poor alike, still want cars.
- Cycling just isn’t popular among the urban poor (yet).