There's a Correlation Between How We Get Around and Our Politics, Class, Education and Wealth

CC BY 2.0. My bike-riding pinko button/ Lloyd Alter

Richard Florida says, "We are cleaving into two nations."

When Rob Ford became mayor of Toronto, he invited hockey commentator Don Cherry to make a speech. Cherry wore an ugly pink jacket and said, "Actually, I’m wearing pink for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything."

Richard Florida

Richard Florida at launch of The New Urban Crisis, Rotman Centre, Toronto/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0We all thought it was ridiculous, and proudly wore our bike-riding pinko buttons, but it turns out he was right. According to new research by Richard Florida, the way we get around really does reflect our income, our class, and our politics. He writes about it on Citylab: The Great Divide in How Americans Commute to Work.

Florida's colleagues ran what he calls "a basic correlation analysis and a cluster analysis. As usual, I will point out that correlation does not in any way infer causation, but simply points to associations between variables. Still, some clear patterns stand out that are worth highlighting."

They found that size and density correlate to using transit, biking and walking, which is obvious and expected.

But also, Education: "People are less likely to drive to work alone and to use alternate modes in metros where more adults are college graduates." Class: "Across metros, the share of workers who are members of the knowledge-based creative class is positively associated with using transit, biking or walking." Money: "In metros with higher wages, a larger share of workers walks bikes, or uses transit to get to work, and a smaller share drives to work alone." And of course,politics.

Our analysis shows a country and a people divided in how they get to work. Americans cleave into two distinct nations based on commuting: One, based in smaller, less advantaged, and more sprawling metros, depends on the car, while the other, based in large, denser, more advantaged, and more educated metros, uses a variety of alternative modes. Driving to work alone in a car is negatively and significantly associated with each and every alternative mode, especially so with biking or walking to work.

This becomes self-perpetuating, creating what Florida calls the new urban crisis of unaffordable housing, greater inequality, and economic segregation where people are less dependent on cars.

It is playing out in real time, as Berkeley brings in a 25 cent charge for every disposable cup, playing to its rich and well-educated population, while ignoring the issue of how people who actually serve the coffee get to work. Florida concludes:

We are cleaving into two nations—one where people’s daily lives revolve around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of alternative modes like walking, biking, and transit. Little wonder that bike lanes have emerged as a symbol of gentrification and “the war on cars” has become a way to call out the so-called urban elite.

©. The War on Cars

© The War on Cars

So, Don Cherry was right. The cities are full of rich, educated, bike-riding pinko elites, and the splits are getting worse with the election of populists like Donald Trump in the States and Rob Ford's brother Doug in Ontario. And they are all winning the war on the car these days and happy to stick it to cities; as Don Cherry concluded, "Put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks."