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Study examines barriers keeping cycling from being more inclusive

Published March 11, 2021

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — Engaging and encouraging marginalized communities and investing in infrastructure will grow cycling and make it more inclusive, according to a new study commissioned by PeopleForBikes.

The study, Where Do We Go From Here? Breaking Down Barriers to Bicycling in the U.S., was led by Charles T. Brown of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. His team wanted to identify the factors preventing people from bicycling and identify the infrastructure improvement and incentives that could encourage them to start.

"Even without the recent upsurge brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, bicycling has increased in popularity in many U.S. cities over the last decade," the executive summary begins. "However, even as the number of bicyclists and bike trips steadily grows, many communities have struggled to create truly inclusive bike cultures. Furthermore, bicycling still remains completely out of reach for many minority groups and low-income Americans due to persistent and pervasive social and physical barriers."

The team used a qualitative approach to personalize and understand the lived experiences of historically marginalized residents and other minority bicyclists. It said relying entirely on quantitative data would limit the understanding of social and physical barriers.

Two focus groups — one with community members, the other with local business representatives — were formed in 10 cities: Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Denver; Fort Collins, Colorado; Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans; New York City; Portland, Oregon; Providence, Rhode Island; and Tucson, Arizona.

A prevailing element of the study’s findings was how many minorities don’t identify with print and social media images of bicyclists, which tend to be white, athletic, and male.

“Whenever I see pictures of cyclists or anyone with a bicycle, I just automatically think it is not for me as someone who is over a size 10 and is Black,” one woman participant said.

A Portland, Oregon, participant said about taking up bicycling, “Most people would be like, that’s a white thing. Why do you want to do that?”

A bicycling stereotype described was a hippy-looking man with tattoos, wearing street clothes, and perhaps not wearing a helmet. A New Orleans focus group participant described his idea of a cyclist as someone with “ambiguous ethnicity” and “people who are trying to live an alternative approach to life. …” 

The study concluded with five recommendations.

  • Meaningfully engage with historically marginalized communities on their turf: This is critical for facility planning, implementation, and promotion of cycling. It means going to places of work, play and residence and not expecting them to come to traditional meetings.
  • Don’t shy away from conducting focus groups in and with communities of color: A lesson learned during the study was the lack of experience many had with engaging and recruiting people of color to participate in the focus groups. It’s important to continue building rapport.
  • Expand private-sector encouragement programs: Businesses should encourage employees to commute by bike and provide incentives, from financial to amenities like shower facilities and indoor bike storage.
  • Develop tailored and culturally relevant educational materials, marketing, and outreach strategies: Bicycle safety and road sharing education needs to be provided for drivers, bicyclists, e-scooter users — and police officers, too.
  • Build and invest in bicycle infrastructure, both the big and small stuff: Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or age, most focus group participants said having a network of protected bike lanes was the No. 1 factor that would increase comfort and safety while bicycling. This is especially true with women and less-experienced bicyclists in high-traffic areas.
Charles T. Brown
Topics associated with this article: DEI and Sustainability

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