I always felt that biking was a democratic activity since most anyone can engage in it — not just Spandex-clad folks with expensive bikes.
But a report released by the Twin Cities nonprofit Cycles for Change indicates that people of color experience serious barriers to biking, including affordability, access and lack of education on rules of the road.
The group held six listening sessions last summer engaging more than 50 people, including those from the African-American, East African, Karen, Eastern European and Asian-American working class communities. The idea was to gauge the perceptions of bicycling — good and bad.
The majority rely on cars as their main mode of transportation, followed by bus, light rail and walking. Thirty-seven percent said they rarely or never rode a bike; just 4 percent said they rely solely on a bike for transport. Yet 42 percent said they'd like to ride a bike more than they do now, mostly to improve their health. The biggest barrier to bike-riding is the ability to afford a quality bike.
The conversation at the Mount Airy Community Center in St. Paul highlighted geographic barriers that prevent biking near the public housing complex. There are two large hills in the area, and busy thoroughfares nearby are not bike friendly — especially in the winter. One participant said "snow fills up" in his pockets in winter because of St. Paul's negligible snowplowing. (Ugh!)
Another finding: Better education is needed on how to ride a bicycle, how to safely navigate streets and integrate bikes with mass transit. (I think everyone could use a tutorial in that.)
"Every group had their own barriers, which were rooted in where they lived, their cultural experiences, their age," said study author Melody Hoffmann. "The responses were a lot more diverse that what we were expecting."
Several participants expressed pride in their biking activity, or a marked enthusiasm to take it up. The study was funded by a Bush Foundation grant and can be found at www.cyclesforchange.org.