One thing so many drivers and politicians complain about when protesting new bike lanes is that they are sitting there empty while they are stewing away in their cars stuck in congested traffic. Or they complain that people on bikes are all white middle class dilettantes while real people need cars to get to real jobs.
But new research from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) concludes that decent protected bike infrastructure not only dramatically increases the number of people riding and reduces the number of people injured or killed, but that it is important for social and economic equity. According to the study, PDF:
Cycling is a fact of life in many low-income communities. Analysis of national Census data by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research shows that 49% of the people who bike to work earn less than $25,000 per year. In 2014, PeopleForBikes reported that the lowest-income households—Americans making less than $20,000 per year—are twice as likely as the rest of the population to rely on bikes for basic transportation needs like getting to work.
The poor and people of colour are underserved with bike infrastructure, while “Black and Hispanic cyclists had
a fatality rate 30% and 23% higher than white cyclists, respectively, and similar racial/ethnic safety gaps are found for pedestrians.”
The study also confirms what we have written about before- that bike lanes encourage more people to cycle and dramatically reduce injuries. In fact, in five of the seven cities studied, “the absolute number of cyclists killed or severely injured also declined from 2007 to 2014, even as cycling rates soared.”
Decent protected bike lanes are also important if cities want bike share programs to work. Research shows that about 60 percent of the population are interested in cycling, but concerned about safety. But only 8 percent of those will do it if there are no bike lanes, and ten times that number will do it if there are. That gets a lot of people out of cars and overcrowded buses. The authors at NACTO conclude that cities should follow that biggest market:
Design for the “Interested but Concerned:” The majority of the U.S. public is interested in biking but concerned about safety. Their willingness to ride is highly in influenced by the quality of bike lanes available to them. Matching convenient bike share systems with a protected bike lane network is a recipe for success.
Remember who is already riding: Half of the people who bike to work earn less than $25,000/year. Years of highway building, car-based zoning, and exclusionary housing policies means low-income neighborhoods are often separated from job centers by highways and dangerous streets with limited-to-no space for bikes or pedestrians. As cities build for more cyclists they should ensure that the bike lane network includes safe routes for existing riders.
Really, if those drivers who complain about congestion want to do something about it, perhaps they should support more separated bike lanes, so that more of those “interested but concerned” possible cyclists actually get out of their cars and do it. More room for them.