How Low-Income Commuters View Cycling | CityLab

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:

  1. Poor respondents spend more time commuting.
  2. Most people, poor and non-poor alike, still want cars.
  3. Cycling just isn’t popular among the urban poor (yet).

Proposition 1 Fails, Metro Riders Lose

Yesterday Seattle’s Proposition 1 failed to receive a majority of votes, meaning King County Metro will face severe cutbacks (the count is not yet final but a reversal is unlikely). Many routes will be eliminated or consolidated, and overall service levels will be reduced when buses are already overcrowded. As a whole, this cut means fewer options, less accessibility, and longer travel times. According to figures from Commute Seattle’s 2012 Center City Commuter Mode Split Survey Results 2012 bus travel accounted for over 35% of work commutes to Center City Seattle (loosely contained by I-90, Broadway, the Sound, and stretching into Uptown & Capitol Hill). This 17% cut is bad for business.

Opponents of Proposition 1 shot down the ballot with short-sighted and single-minded intent that will ultimately bring negative consequences to all Seattleites, regardless of their perspectives on Metro.For transit riders, cuts mean fewer buses, longer waits, and more uncomfortable rides as resources are stretched to new limits. For drivers, fewer buses will likely mean more cars as a segment of transit riders substitute private vehicles for  now unavailable or untimely transit trips. The already bad and at times terrible congestion will only increase.

Of course, the populations that will suffer most are the low-income, disabled, and elderly populations in which many rely on buses for transportation to work, medical facilities, and other essential services. Yes, the proposed car tab and sales tax increase were regressive – but reducing or even eliminating mobility for at-risk populations is even worse. For those who cite inefficiency, poor service, rising costs, and drivers’ wages – yes, these are legitimate discussions to be had. But to vote for massive cuts – that is a privilege not everyone can enjoy.

The cuts will begin to go into effect shortly and are expected to last at least until the fall. Until the state legislature fulfills its responsibility to fund transportation (2015, maybe) there is little Metro can do to sustain its current service levels. Meanwhile, Friends of Transit has proposed a small property tax increase to be placed on the November ballot. Even if such a measure were to pass, as I hope it will, it is going to be a long summer.

Video: bus riders express concern

West Seattle Blog: Proposition 1 first results

Kirotv: new initiative announced update (April 24, 6:30am)

Seattle Transit Blog

Commute Seattle 2012 report