On the face of it cycling seems like it should be a very inclusive activity. It is easy, economical and can provide low-cost mobility and transportation to individuals. However, a recent study from Rutgers University, Voorhees Transportation Center determined that there are several factors that prevent marginalized populations from bicycling.
Charles Brown, the lead investigator of the U.S. based study on barriers to biking found that rates of bicycling were on the rise even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic, the rate of uptake has increased even more. A disturbing finding, however, is that for many Americans cycling remains an unattainable activity due to long-standing social or physical barriers.
PeopleForBikes commissioned the Rutgers study with the intent to understand why some populations are choosing cycling while others are not. They specifically examined what would encourage those who do not cycle to take it up and encourage those who do cycle to do it more. Infrastructure and financial incentives were included in the study.
In the study, the group formed focus groups in 10 cities. They enlisted community members and businesses to gain a better understanding of their attitudes about cycling, their perceptions, and what they see as the problems. By using focus groups the researchers were able to build relationships and partnerships which they hope will outlast the study. The benefits of the relationship would be important in marginalized communities where resources are scarce.
A key finding was that many individuals consider a bike as a recreational device rather than a mode of transport. Other findings included that cycling infrastructure (roads) was perceived to be unsafe. BIPOC communities are concerned with discriminatory law enforcement measures, while religious and sexual minorities also shared this view. Many minorities don’t identify with print and social media representations of cyclists wither. Most media portrays cyclists to be fit, white men.
Recommendations that arose from the research included:
Historically marginalized peoples need to be engaged in their communities. This is crucial to planning and implementing infrastructure, and to promoting cycling.
It is important to create community focus groups to determine local barriers, to form partnerships, and to encourage the activity of cycling by demonstrating the benefits of it.
Creating incentive programmes implemented by local businesses is important. Businesses can encourage employees and customers to cycle by providing amenities like bike racks, bike storage, and shower facilities for employees.
Advertising, social media and print educational materials should be tailored to the community. It should emphasize safety and road sharing for cyclists, drivers, e-scooter users, and police.
An investment is required in cycling infrastructure. Regardless of the age, gender, ethnicity or race of participants the lack of a network of protected bike lanes was the number 1 factor that was perceived to increase safety and comfort while cycling. Women and less experienced cyclists were most likely to identify this item.
The concerns identified in the American study may well be similar to those which would be raised here in Ontario. Numerous studies have already concluded that people are more likely to cycle when they have protected, dedicated and safe cycling lanes either on or beside roadways, and on cycling paths in urban and rural areas.