Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Workforce Cyclists, Poverty, and Limits in the Draft Plan

Yesterday I used the word "poverty" in a note about the thinness and poorness, the poverty, of the current bike system for most users. Seeing the word throughout the day reminded me that our analysis mostly ignores real poverty. It was clear I haven't given enough time or attention to that topic in discussing the bike plan and its process.

If you go by the Salvation Army, the Union Gospel Mission, Truitt Bros on Front Street, Rainsweet on Sunnyview, or any number of other places around town, you'll find large concentrations of people on bike and parked, locked bikes.

There are large numbers of people who bike because they may not have a choice. The Salem draft bike plan's assumed and intended audience, and the people it is meant to serve, are people who can choose to bike, who have the resources to drive or not to drive. It is mainly about discretionary transportation choices.

A year ago, the Los Angeles bike plan elicited some important criticism:
Probably the largest cycling demographic in Los Angeles is workforce cyclists. They are the working class day laborers, cooks, security guards, janitors, etc. – primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants, who keep Los Angeles moving by pushing the pedals to get to and from work. Dan Koeppel wrote a compelling article detailing this culture, and anyone who lives in LA is familiar with them. Yet, the proposed bike plan ignores their existence, classifying all cyclists according to the three categories given by FHWA – advanced, basic, and children.

For the plan to succeed, it must address the specific needs of workforce cyclists, and that begins with recognition.
Shown here in the 2005 Portland BTA Blueprint for Better Biking, the tripartite scheme of "fearless," "confident," and "interested" is structurally pretty similar to a scheme of advanced, basic, and children. We assume, for example, that families with children are a large portion of the "interested but concerned" segment. But we also assume that people can choose whether to bike.

Here in Salem the planning process didn't totally ignore workforce cyclists. Early in the process the City went out with a Spanish language survey.

But aside from the City giving Amador Aguilar a Distinguished Project Award this piece is largely submerged. Presumably it informs the project list, but does not inform the plan's discussion of demographics and user types. Workforce cyclists, the poor, and the homeless are largely invisible. They bike too. Sometimes a lot more than many of us.

I remain concerned that the draft plan does not think strategically about where and who needs to be served first and in what order. It also doesn't value bicycling as a core form of mobility. The ad hoc project list is offered a la carte, and it seems likely that a non-optimal randomness will govern the order in which projects are funded and completed. Maybe this is an unavoidable consequence of the politics of transportation just now. But it sure seems like we could try harder to guide things wisely.

1 comment:

Walker said...

True dat.

One simple policy could do more to improve any American city than all the transport studies yet or that ever will be done:

For a month every year, all electeds and senior appointed officials cannot drive or accept car rides from anyone they akready know. And for one of those weeks, the officials must do all travel outside their homes in a wheelchair.