Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jason Henderson at the National Bike Summit

Jason Henderson went to the National Bike Summit and reported on it last week for the Bay Guardian (Bicycling and Equity):

In the face of increased gasoline prices and congestion, more public awareness of the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and driving, and interest in physical activity, bicycling has experienced a mini-boom throughout the US...In San Francisco, 3.5 to 6 percent of all trips are made by bicycle, amounting to roughly 150,000 bicycle trips in the city each day, a jump from around 1 percent of trips in the 1990s.

I don't know where Henderson gets his numbers, since the city's most recent study (Mode Share Survey, page 5) says that cycling is only 3.4% of all trips in the city---73,071 trips per day. Call cycling a micro-boom in San Francisco. Gas prices? According to AAA (Winter 2014 Gas Prices Creep Up), "California motorists are starting to see a slight upward movement at the gas pumps," not exactly enough to make people give up their cars in favor of bikes:

In many respects, bicycling is among the most equitable forms of urban transportation because it is affordable and accessible to almost everyone. Bicycling is far cheaper, safer, healthier, and cleaner than driving, and when considering global equity, far saner for a national climate policy. And for many low income workers, bicycling is also an affordable conveyance that enables not just physical mobility but also financial stability.

Safer? According to that widely-ignored UC study, cycling is a lot more dangerous in San Francisco than anyone except me thought. And it's mostly white men who ride bikes in the city: "75 percent of Hispanic, 71 percent of Asian, and 83 percent of African-American populations do not [ever]bicycle compared to 61 percent of white respondents" (2012 San Francisco State of Cycling Report, page 25). And less than 30% of city cyclists are women, a percentage that's stayed much the same over the years (2009 Bicycle Count Report, page 10).

I've been critical of feminist identity politics, but the above seems to show that women are actually smarter than men. Doggone it, I guess I'll have to re-think that issue. 

The Bicycle Coalition has tried over the years to get more women riding bikes but with little success. The NY Times has reported on that issue. Bike writer John Pucher: “I’m convinced that one of the reasons New York City has such a low percentage of women cyclists is that it’s dangerous.” Same thing is true about San Francisco.

From the 2009 Bicycle Collisions Report, page 33:

From 1999 to 2009, 3222 bicyclists injured in collisions or 76% were male, while 984 or 23.2% were female. This breakdown is generally consistent with the gender split of bicyclists counted in the SFMTA bicycle counts conducted in August of 2009. The 2009 bicycle counts found that 70.5% of observed bicyclists were male, while 29.5% were female.

Turns out that riding a bike is good therapy:

Social justice advocates and community organizers had a strong presence at the summit, which has historically reflected a whiter, upper-middle-class male constituency. One presenter discussed bicycling and women's prison rehabilitation, sharing how women who suffered from abuse, drug addiction, and imprisonment found bicycle riding to be normalizing and helpful for personal growth and for managing depression and anxiety.

But the same is true for any vigorous exercise, like running. A doctor even wrote a book about successfully treating schizophrenics with running as therapy (The Joy of Running):

One of the most inspiring personas at the Bike Summit was Terry O'Neill, director of the National Organization for Women...O'Neill prodded cyclists to ask: What do we need to do to make bicycling useful to women? And then she laid it out eloquently. Build affordable housing---lots of it---in areas where it is most needed, such as affluent Montgomery County, a suburb of DC, or in places like Hayes Valley and Silicon Valley. By creating the spatial proximity that makes cycling practical, women (and men) can incorporate cycling while balancing jobs, household chores, and children.

But this still doesn't address the question of why more women don't ride bikes, since women don't have a special need for affordable housing because of their gender. And do I detect a trace of sexism in the "household chores and children" usage?

Maybe women are worried about how riding a bike might impact their sex life, though men face the same danger.

An online comment to Henderson's column linked a website (Stuff White People Like) that provides some insight into bikes and race:

A good place to find white people on a Saturday is at a Bike Shop. Bike shops are almost entirely staffed and patronized by white people! But not all white people love bicycles in the same way, there is much diversity. First up, we have the younger urban white folks who absolutely love their fixed gear bicycles. These are seen all over college towns, Silverlake in LA, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Queen West in Toronto, and Victoria, British Columbia. Fixed gear bicycles meet a lot of requirements for white person acceptance. They can be made from older (i.e. vintage) bicycles, thus allowing the rider to have a unique bike that is unlikely to be ridden by anyone else in town. They are also easily customizable with expensive things...The combination of rare bicycles and expensive parts makes it easy for white people to judge other white people on the quality and originality of their bicycles. This is important in determining if someone is or isn’t cooler than you...

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