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Can we make Bike to Work Day more diverse?

Bike to Work Day coaxes people of all stripes to make the commute on two wheels instead of four. As Bike to Work Day continues to grow, we must think about how to expand it not just in numbers, but to people in a wider range of economic circumstances and demographic groups.

They're black, white, and Asian, but all look like experienced cyclists. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr

Bike to Work Day is a great chance to get people involved in cycling and bike advocacy who aren't otherwise. Last Friday, 12,000 people officially participated in Bike to Work Day, checking in to one of 58 pit stops across the region.

However, at the pit stops I've passed through in the last 3 years, most cyclists appear affluent and ex­per­i­enced, judging by their equipment. Even most non-white participants look like they work professional jobs and have upscale gear.

How can we get a more diverse group of participants, not just by race or gender but also economically?

There is no question that Bike to Work Day is a hugely successful event, growing every year. The organizers, and WABA in particular, deserve serious thanks and congratulations for the enormous undertaking of BTWD. It's done a great deal to raise the visibility of cycling and to expand the reach of cycling to more women, younger and older age groups, and beyond the MAMIL stereotype.

While we can revel in these growing levels of success, it's important not to be complacent. It may be time to start thinking about how to reach the current and future "invisible cyclists" through this event.

We can gauge participation by the numbers of people who checked in at the 58 pit stops across the region, and estimate very roughly the socioeconomic status of participants by where the pit stops are located. Total check-ins ranged from nearly 1,000 at the 2 most central, in Rosslyn and downtown DC, all the way down to 5 people in Takoma at Langley Crossroads.

2012 Bike to Work Day pit stop attendance
(data courtesy of WABA)
VA - Arlington - Rosslyn968
DC - Downtown at Reagan Building923
MD - Bethesda - Downtown685
VA - Alexandria - Old Town580
VA - Arlington - Ballston513
VA - Arlington - Crystal City Water Park508
VA - Reston449
DC - Golden Triangle, Farragut Square448
MD - National Institutes of Health Bldg One432
DC - Adams Morgan376
VA - Sterling375
DC - National Geographic358
MD - Silver Spring - One Discovery Place325
VA - Vienna324
DC - Capitol Hill at Eastern Market324
DC - Columbia Heights294
VA - Herndon291
DC - Mt. Vernon Triangle280
DC - NoMa280
VA - Falls Church261
MD - Frederick255
VA - Leesburg234
MD - Rockville - Rockville Town Center202
VA - Alexandria - Carlyle199
MD - Naval Support Activity Bethesda196
MD - North Bethesda - White Flint Mall190
MD - Rockville - Falls Grove Transportation Ctr.170
DC - Capitol Riverfront at Yards Park164
VA - Fairfax Corner151
MD - Rock Springs Business Park137
VA - Merrifield132
MD - College Park - City Hall130
MD - Takoma Park - Downtown126
VA - Alexandria - Mark Center / BRAC 133117
MD - NIH Executive Blvd107
MD - Hyattsville - Magruder Park101
DC - Golden Triangle, Murrow Park88
VA - Tysons Corner86
VA - Springfield/Metro Park at Walker Lane79
VA - Fairfax City Downtown62
DC - Buzzard Point-U.S. Coast Guard HQ55
VA - Manassas - George Mason University55
MD - Oxon Hill54
MD - Greenbelt54
VA - Manassas - VRE Station53
VA - Burke51
MD - Takoma Park - Silgo Creek Trail44
MD - FDA White Oak43
MD - Bowie Town Center38
DC - Anacostia34
VA - Woodbridge - Chinn Center29
MD - Indian Head26
VA - Manassas - Kelly Leadership Center21
MD - Bowie Old Town19
VA - Haymarket14
VA - Rippon Landing VRE14
VA - Woodbridge - VRE12
MD - Takoma/Langley Crossroads5

Pit stop location

One way to increase diversity could be to add more pit stops in different parts of the region. Despite significant work by WABA over the last year to reach out to Wards 7 & 8, there was only one pit stop in the whole of both wards. That stop, in downtown Anacostia, saw 14 people. Ward 7 had no pit stops at all.

In fact, with the exception of National Harbor and Indian Head, right on the Potomac, there were no pit stops in southern Prince George's county either, leaving the entire southeast quadrant of the region without a place to participate.

We shouldn't expect new cyclists to take on a major ride beyond a couple of miles. Even if some newcomers were feeling ambitious, many areas in the suburban counties don't offer safe biking routes in employment districts. Therefore, biking to transit has to be a key strategy to Bike to Work Day.

There were pit stops at many VRE and MARC stations to the south and north of the District, enabling commuters to potentially ride shorter distances to their local train station. Of course, MARC & VRE ridership is itself relatively homogenous.

Wards 7 and 8, as well as much of Prince George's, are not bike friendly. Anacostia River crossings are often downright dangerous on a bike. So promoting biking to work in these communities depends all the more on the first/last mile connection to transit. Yet no Metro stations on the southern Green Line or eastern Blue and Orange Lines had pit stops.

Many of these stations are located in relatively residential neighborhoods, meaning the comfort and safety barrier to biking is relatively low. Why not have pit stops at them?

Obviously it takes resources and volunteers to set up pit stops. Businesses often host stops in hopes of driving sales. Most volunteers want to host pit stops in their communities instead of traveling across the region to some other location they don't know well.

But perhaps in the future, some supporters could sponsor pit stops in neighborhoods where there may not be such natural hosts. We could also look beyond the WABA members and the cycling community for volunteers. Perhaps community action organizations could help address the challenge of volunteers?

These stops may have relatively low attendance, but I think the benefit of a few people participating in these areas would be much greater than the marginal benefit of a few more people checking in in upper Montgomery County.

Pit stop timing

Another way to increase diversity would be to schedule pit stops for more time periods. The vast majority of stops were set up for 2-3 hours between from 6 and 9 am. Only 4 pit stops were open later. 3 stuck it out until 10 am, and the Indian Head, Maryland stop on the east bank of the Potomac was open until 11.

In Columbia Heights and Falls Church, organizers set up an afternoon "Bike from Work Day" pit stop from 4-7 pm. Even with that one exception, Bike to Work Day clearly catered primarily to those people starting work by 9:30am and leaving by 6:30.

Many low-income workers work at other times, like a shift job from 5 am to 2 pm. Many may already be riding a bike to work out of necessity. And if they aren't, they may be spending significant portions of their income on more expensive modes of transportation. Being introduced to cycling could help keep more money in these workers' pockets.

Those that are riding, frequently ride any bike they can get a hold of, not the median-priced $1,000 bike you see mostly at Bike to Work Day pit stops. Of any cyclists on the road, they likely could most use a tune-up, a new light, pant leg strap, or other safety schwag typically being given away at BTWD. Lastly, they are a population group that could be much better represented in bike planning and advocacy.

Of course, the lack of pit stops in the poorest areas of the region is a challenge to getting these cyclists, whether seasoned or new, to participate. However, the map above shows that, despite the blank space east of the river and in southern Prince George's, many pit stops are already in higher-poverty areas. This is all the more reason to explore ways to diversify the pit stop hours.

Pit stops with different hours would also face challenges in recruiting volunteers. Again this is where we need to think creatively about making alliances beyond the existing cycling community.

BTWD organizers collected a lot of information about participants. It would be interesting to do some analysis on this data to see where the people who checked in at the biggest, most central pit stops were coming from. This could give us a better idea of how lopsided the participation truly is.

Bike to Work Day is a very valuable part of cycling advocacy. Reaching the invisible cyclist is no easy task. It won't be easy, but with some planning and effort, Bike to Work Day could be a major opportunity to better include these current and potential cyclists.

Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 


Add a comment »

why do you want diversity?

by charlie on May 25, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

[This is off-topic and I apologize for that. Its just that this comment stood out to me as the type of off-hand comment equating race/ethnicity with SES that harms cross-race dialogue even when its apparent no harm was intended by the speaker/writer.
Even most non-white participants look like they work professional jobs

Its not the kind of generalized comment about race/ethnicity and SES I expect from someone who lives in the DC area. I expect us to be more sophisticated, and self-aware of how this comment might sound.]

Once again I apologize to Erik and otherwise commend him for taking on this subject.

by Tina on May 25, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

Nice assumption; that whites are somehow affluent and/or "privileged" by dint of being white.

by Jon on May 25, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

BTWD is mostly self-organized, it's not about outreach to new audiences as much as it is community building for the already engaged.

I argue actually that BTWD is mis-focused, that we spend too much energy on "one day" when we need to focus on engaging people in an ongoing fashion. E.g., Bike Month, and by sectors (school, work, etc.) and by demographic type.

My presentation on "best practice suburban bicycle planning" outlines the way to do this, and of course, it's a general thing (actually I laid it out also in the W. Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan) for any jurisdiction.

I'd rather that we drill down to the neighborhood/ward level on bike encouragement planning and activities.

One of the things I've encouraged the federal bike committee to promote is an agency-based commuter challenge, to build awareness of biking as transportation in federal agencies.


But the basic response is: if you don't organize BTWD to be diverse in terms of demographics, it won't be. We don't and it isn't.

by Richard Layman on May 25, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

Maybe low income folks associate biking with not being wealthy enough to drive. I've seen a lot of hispanics biking to work, just with out all the snazzy bike gear.

by Thayer-D on May 25, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

I think that affluence (and/or race, and I agree with Tina above that those are not linked) and BTWD participation is a spurrious correlation. Short of dignitary participation (agency heads and CEO's biking in to give speeches at pit stops), most of the BTWD participants have at least biked in before, even if they don't do it regularly. There needs to be more of an active outreach starting in the weeks and even months before BTWD to get first timers out, regardless of the region. Perhaps partner with a local bike shop, or even someplace that sells activewear, but not bikes, do some community rides along the route to said pit stops... Feet in the streets is also a good step towards this. BTWD serves as more of a reminder to folks that are relatively comfortable bike commuting that the season is starting. Without a year-round or at least three-season outreach, it's not the culmination of an effort to get a large number of first-timers out.

by Joe in SS on May 25, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

Interesting. Cycling is touted as being something that can benefit those of limited means, yet the map shows a negative correlation between the poverty level and participation in bike to work day (and my guts says with biking in general). In fact, it seems to lend credence to the meme about bikes being toys for well-off single males. It's an inversion of what you might America at least, cars are the common man's form of transportation, while bikes are for the economic elite. Certainly not the situation in most of the world!

by FrankH on May 25, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

With time, things are likely to change. Til then:

by oboe on May 25, 2012 1:32 pm • linkreport

I appreciate your comment. I don't feel that that statement is particularly harmful in the context of this topic. We talk and talk and talk about increasing diversity in cycling, and focus heavily on the gender and racial aspects of this. We get excited about groups like Black Women Bike, pat ourselves on the back, but look past the fact that despite our different races and genders, we're still very very similar.

My intent with that sentence was to head off the comments pointing out that the racial diversity has grown over the years and that by ignoring that, the whole article was moot. But just goes to show you can't please everyone. :-)

by Erik W on May 25, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

@Jon, in our country with its history its still true that there is privilege just for being white. Even the most disadvantaged white person isn't going to be targeted by white racists for "acting suspiciously" or even for violence just for being born with a certain melanocyte content. But this is off-topic.

The topic is how to increase diversity of bikers and/or the reach of WABA into communities it hasn't already made contact with during BTWD.

For the former I say its better biking infrastructure; i.e. safer routes. For the latter, I think E.W. is correct that more BTWD stations in ares known to have lower avg. income is one way to do it. but for a one day event, there is always going to be a large cohort who isn't reached.

by Tina on May 25, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

"Maybe low income folks associate biking with not being wealthy enough to drive."

I think that's it, Thayer-D. There's no social stigma to taking a bike to work in Europe or Asia (Britain is a little different). In the U.S. people generally will assume the only reason you bike is because you're too poor to own a car (or perhaps are a "tree-hugger" or heath nut).

If someone's obviously affluent they don't have to "prove" themselves so they feel free to bike to work. If you live in a poor neighborhood the pressure is there to prove you have "made it" by having a car. I think this may explain what FrankH was saying, too. Teenagers, too, drop their bikes as soon as their old enough to drive because having a car is both a status symbol and a symbol of adulthood.

by Jenni on May 25, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

Maybe low income folks associate biking with not being wealthy enough to drive. I've seen a lot of hispanics biking to work, just with out all the snazzy bike gear.

I'm always puzzled by the conception some have that poor folks, or black folks don't ride bikes. Probably because I live in NE, and see middle-aged black guys on beat-up mountain bikes all the time. You do make a good point: a lot of this is a way of signaling socioeconomic status. Poor folks ride a bike, because it's convenient, cheap, and just makes sense. Upper middle-class people ride bikes for the same reason, and to signal their higher socioeconomic status.

Those who are in that sort of aspirational bourgeoise category wouldn't be caught dead on a bike, because they're insecure, and want to distinguish themselves from the poor folks. Mercedes 3-series means you've arrived. Riding a $5000 Orbea means you're a raffish fellow who couldn't swing a monthly payment.

by oboe on May 25, 2012 1:41 pm • linkreport

"Even most non-white participants look like they work professional jobs and have upscale gear."

Wow. Imagine if the line had said: "Even most non-Asian participants look like they work professional jobs and have upscale gear" of "Even most non-black participants look like they work professional jobs and have upscale gear".

Try toning down the racial language.

by cris87 on May 25, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

Ride Metrobus #80 from the Kennedy Center about 10pm any weeknight. Watch the mobs of office cleaners waiting for a bus which runs only every 15 minutes. Then try the 14th street bus 52 or 54 northbound. You will not get a seat because it is packed with a very diverse crowd of workers headed home. 14th street even has bike lanes between Mass & Florida. Yet people wait for infrequent and packed buses. Seems perfect a bike-from-work project.

by tour guide on May 25, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

Tina: How would you have made that point? I read it the way Erik did, as specifically emphasizing that race is NOT the same as SES. I wonder if it weren't in there then there would be criticism that the article conflated the two.

So what would have been a better way to make that important point?

by David Alpert on May 25, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

@DA-I would have just edited that sentence out. The sentence that follows it makes the point perfectly w/o any connotation baggage: How can we get a more diverse group of participants, not just by race or gender but also economically?

by Tina on May 25, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

P.S. I'm including as content in the text the photograph and the label under it. With that, and the two sentences immediately preceding and following the one I didn't like, the "offending" sentence isn't needed to make the point.

by Tina on May 25, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

OK, what if the photo weren't there? When it was written that wasn't there and then Erik and I found the photo and put on the caption. So let's say MVJ hadn't found that great photo. What would we need to say to avoid the first comment being something like, "How dare you conflate race with SES?"

by David Alpert on May 25, 2012 2:23 pm • linkreport

I am not sure it is appropriate to say that the location of pit stops in economically diverse areas means the pit stop locations are actually helpful or convenient for lower income bikers.

I understand things, a pit stop is something you use when you need a break or some water, not a place you stop at right after you've started your ride. So their location in an economically diverse area means it is only convenient for lower income bikers if (i) they want to stop right after they've started riding and don't really need a break/water or (ii) they are traveling from another, further out area and need to stop.

by Nick on May 25, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

In DC the whiter/richer Wards tend to have a lot of voter turnout in the mornings and the more African American/poorer Wards tend to have more voting in the afternoon.

This might suggest an afternoon bike to work day event could generate more interest than a morning event in some neighborhoods.

In any case, young people, wherever they live and work, would probably turn out more for late afternoon events than morning events.

by Michael D. on May 25, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

I agree withe comments about lower SES+ car equals "success." The auto industry has done a good job selling their products. People even name their cars, call them baby, etc, They even treat them with more care that they do their own children!

I'm SOO glad I don't own a car, but still get the occasional odd glance when someone hears this.

by Tom A. on May 25, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

While we're at it, how about an article about making DC's Recreation Centers more diverse? They are the least diverse public spaces I've ever seen in this city.

This begs the question- why is diversity always about white people making sure black people are involved in their stuff? When is the last time a predominantly black group looked at trying to get more white people involved?

by Tom A. on May 25, 2012 2:44 pm • linkreport

@DA...the first comment being something like, "How dare you conflate race with SES?"
Did I do that? I didn't mean to. I meant to give constructive criticism. It was that ONE sentence that stood out to me.

How about this in the absence of the photo and its caption:

However, at the pit stops I've passed through in the last 3 years, most cyclists appear affluent and ex­per­i­enced, judging by their equipment. Even most non-white Participants seemed to represent a diverse cross-section of races/ethnicities and both genders but all look like they work professional jobs and have upscale gear.

How can we get a more diverse group of participants, not just by race or gender but also economically?

by Tina on May 25, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

BTWD organizers are actively trying to diversify the event, providing promotional material printed in Spanish at the request of pit stop leaders. The new BTWD website will likely be bilingual in future years. Pioneer pit stops like Takoma/Langley Crossroads are fraught with challenges but will adapt and grow. Safe and inviting cycling infrastructure in our region's more diverse areas remains a major obstacle.

@Richard Layman's point about BTWD vs. Bike Month is well taken. In Takoma Park, Bike Month was celebrated with events like the first national Bike To School Day and a Bike-in Movie night, culminating in BTWD.

by eozberk on May 25, 2012 2:49 pm • linkreport

"Even most non-white participants look like they work professional jobs and have upscale gear. "

Were they articulate as well?

This post is so patronizing.

by beatbox on May 25, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

^ correction: "...but all most look like they work professional jobs..."

by Tina on May 25, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

good post, Erik

"Wards 7 and 8, as well as much of Prince George's, are not bike friendly. Anacostia River crossings are often downright dangerous on a bike. So promoting biking to work in these communities depends all the more on the first/last mile connection to transit. Yet no Metro stations on the southern Green Line or eastern Blue and Orange Lines had pit stops."

Quite right, and in accord with WMATA LT Planning initiative to improve bicycle access to stations to help absorb projected ridership gains. Convoy to stations, WMATA helping out with pit stops, and a waiver of rush hour bike restrictions on those lines on BWTD, perhaps?

In re infrastructure improvements, a bit of community outreach to coincide with the full opening of the 11th St Bridge should be considered.

For those who ask why should we care about race and/or SES bicycling?

*Public health. Outcomes for both lower income and non-white populations are disproportionately bad wrt obesity related conditions. bicycling is not the whole answer, but the billions in societal savings on offer through preventive health measures like active transportation means we all have an interest in making such things as accessible to everyone.

*lack of bicycling in certain communities is symptomatic of distorted investments. In English, bike lanes encourage people to bike. Regardless of the reason why (community resistance, for example), the impact is less encouragement to bike, and less safe conditions for those who do. So, in the communities where the need is greatest to improve health impacts, the investment in a countermeasure to do just that is at its lowest.

*Racial and SES divides in bicycling are starker here in DC than other major cities. Regardless of cause (I say infrastructure), that's troubling to me.

by darren on May 25, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Thoughtful post Erik, thanks.

One way to help the event diversify is to volunteer to help next year! Lead a commuter convoy, recruit people, or help out with a pitstop in an area you'd like to see better represented.

Advocating for better infrastructure in under-represented areas helps too. You're right, for example, that most crossings over 295 and/or the Anacostia river are not bike-friendly and can be a major barrier to downtown access from the east.

by JDAntos on May 25, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

Why all the sensitivity about race?

The original author made a valid point. Most BTWD folks are on gear that the average person would consider high end.

And there is a pretty big racial/economic divide in DC. A lot of the long-time Black residents are poor and have low education. Almost all of the newcomers are pretty well-off. And most of them are White.

I would like to see more people of all races bike to work. The selfish reason for that is that if it's just the rich White folks, then we'll continue to have a lot of Ward 7 and 8 politicians and people inveighing against bike lanes. That'll create more conflicts that we just don't need. Less selfishly, we would like to give people in Wards 7 and 8 the option of biking to work, to the store or to the Metro. Fewer cars on the road, less congestion, more exercise: it can work out well for everyone.

And yes, Jon, in this country, simply being White comes with privilege. And if you're White and in DC, you've either got a lot more resources than folks in 7 and 8, or if you don't now, you soon will.

by Weiwen on May 25, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

Tina @2:46: I'm not saying that's what your comments said, I'm saying that as I read the post, I felt that if that sentence weren't there, that's the kind of comment we would get.

I'm sure your version or another probably would have been better, but I think the reason it got through editing the way it did was that we were thinking about it from the point of view of being criticized for not making the difference between race and SES more clear.

If we just said "most of the people are white, experienced, professional, etc." and then "how can we bring in more low-income people" I was assuming someone would say "how dare do you assume that the high-income people are white" or some such.

Maybe it's the fallout from that "native" commenter who got so angry about the way I didn't make such a distinction absolutely and blatantly clear in an article. It seems to be a tough balance to figure out how much you want to underscore the race/SES difference or not.

by David Alpert on May 25, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

The comments here mostly seem like supposition w/o much evidence. If biking is to spread to new populations, people trying to popularize it need to ask what it takes to do in different populations. Do people know that they don't need to be nwell-off to have appropriate gear? Do they have places at home/work to store a bike? To they have places to clean up at work after biking in DC's summer? Did they learn to bike in the first place? I can imagine scenarios where well-off or not people haven't learned to ride. The kinds of places where people play outside and ride bikes as their first step of independence are absent from much of this area either because of years of realistic fears of crime or because many parents won't allow much that isn't a supervised, organized activity. Class and race/ethnicity are confounded here despite the large Black middle class. Moreover, environmental groups have been largely ineffectual in going beyond their granola-ish base and tend to talk about other people mostly in the abstract, failing to engage people who may benefit greatly from biking or efforts to improve the environment otherwise. Not everyone is this narrow minded--the BTWD coordinator for our office wants everyone to ride and tries to find a way to get them to at least consider it. He's also a sociologist who has worked with community organizations on a variety of topics. My impression is that he's a rarity.

by Rich on May 25, 2012 6:39 pm • linkreport

Rich - how do your suppositions square with WABA's East of the River program?

by darren on May 25, 2012 6:50 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by H Street Landlord on May 25, 2012 7:04 pm • linkreport

I appreciate the sentiment of making BTWD more diverse, but think it is misplaced.
1. Biking to work is still a minority activity: a few percent of commuters. Just getting people to bike is the first thing. Lets not get too distracted by other issues.
2. Rich people on fancy gear does not stop people from riding. I've done BTWD on an old beat up frame I got from Nashbar, in an old t-shirt.
3. A significant barrier to more black participation appears to be the infrastructure in the areas where there are larger black populations. Bad roads, no paths, etc. You could also mention a lack of police taking seriously bike theft or injuries to cyclists. I have lived in high crime neighborhoods and you are aware of your vulnerability generally: a bike just heightens it. Maybe people don't ride because its not a good idea where they live, just like the white people in commuter suburbs who live too far.
4. Finally, if people don't want to ride, that's OK. If it isn't what you are into, that doesn't mean its wrong. Just as long as you don't stop me from riding.

So, I think that we should continue pushing for better bike infrastructure and laws for everyone, every where.

by SJE on May 25, 2012 9:14 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't focus on trying to grow Bike to Work Day; it's just one day of the year, and while its visibility is a form of advocacy, in some ways it's just a celebration. Let's keep the focus on growing biking in general, and the best way to do that for all demographics is to improve the infrastructure. Want more cyclists in Ward 7? Add bike lanes. Teach bicycle safety in grade school. Encourage more bike shops. Maybe even adding drinking fountains to trails, and air hoses.

But back to BTWD visibility: I think increasing the number of "pit stops" decreases visibility. Perhaps the smaller ones could be used as convoy meetups to go to larger rallys? I didn't notice any convoys this year, and I think seeing clusters of (well-behaved) cyclists is a good form of advocacy.

Don't fret that many people have restrictive shifts that make morning rallies difficult to attend; I don't see anything wrong with letting those with the leisure to adjust their schedules be the ones to advocate for better biking for all. Again, the goal is to make biking safe and convenient for everyone, not to have everyone attend Bike to Work Day.

by M.V. Jantzen on May 25, 2012 10:02 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Al on May 25, 2012 10:04 pm • linkreport

"Appear"? really? No, measuring people by the designated areas they pass through is not it. (And while we're at it, where is the editor?)

by Read Scott Martin on May 25, 2012 11:22 pm • linkreport

The low hanging fruit is not getting non-bikers to bike to work but to get them biking while at work. If Capital Bikeshare wants to expand their corporate memberships they could offer free trials for businesses considering providing this benefit to employees. Get the 1% or 2% of workers in the business who do bike to work to organize a CaBi ride to demonstrate to non-bikers how easy riding in (most parts of) the city is. As the number of "nontraditional" CaBi riders grows, the diversity of Bike to Work Day will increase.

by Early Man on May 26, 2012 6:44 am • linkreport

I've always seen the concept of BTWD as making the following pitch -- you alreadty own a bike and ride it recreationally, why not consider using it to get to work. We'll even make it fun and recreational by adding some pit stops and making it a social event.

That pitch isn't going to hold water with people who don't already own a bike gor recreational purposes. And my guess is that poor people are a lot less likely to own recreational bikes.

by Falls Church on May 26, 2012 8:31 am • linkreport

I'd also point out that unemployment among youngish people in wards 7&8 is probably around 30% so a large chunks are automatically eliminated from biking to "work".

by Falls Church on May 26, 2012 8:35 am • linkreport

It is bike to WORK day, so why do so many people dress up in those silky bike clothes? Why don't they bike in work clothes? BTWD is supposed to get more people biking on a regular basis but instead it seems to be drawing out a showy bunch of bikers and equipment.
I think those showy bikers and a lack of "poor folks"indicates a source of problem for getting more people to bike everyday: what do you do when you get to work? If you work in an office you may have a shower but is it professional to shower at work everyday do you get your hair fixed etc. nicely in the exec washroom? I wear bluejeans and sandals to work (y'all would've put me in the lower SES category if you saw me at a pit stop). But on days when I need to leave my cozy nonprofit office for a meeting, I dress up and I don't bike to work either!
And then if you work at a Starbucksor or or are a secretary with no shower access... Then how do you ride every day?

For all these reasons I think we should call it Ride in Your Work Clothes Day. Maybe we just need to make sweat more acceptable in order to get more people to bike regularly.

by Melanie Stegman on May 26, 2012 8:50 am • linkreport

Rich's points are the kinds of points I was making when I was the bike and ped planner in Baltimore County in FY10, and in some of the regional bike/ped coordinator discussions at the time.

My basic point is that you need to focus on promoting sustainable transportation systematically, by demographic (age, race, SES, gender, household type) and develop programs accordingly.

Mostly we don't do that. Plan participants are pretty much self selected, and survey respondents tend to be white men.

That being said, and I make this point for many other segments of planning, we focus on infrastructure more than programming. The basis of the approach I term "action planning" is to integrate social marketing and branding through integrated program development and delivery, with a commitment to participation and democracy, and based on the design method.

WRT Darren's comments about the WABA EoR initiative, I think it's a great step, but I've never seen a plan for it.

I think the various activities in Portland through the Community Cycling Center of Portland, and their programs with women and low-income commuters are great examples. The Recycle a bicycle program in NYC does some interesting stuff too. Neighborhood Bicycle Works in Philadelphia, etc. (Some of these programs are like Phoenix in Arlington and the no longer existing Shaw Chain Reaction program.)

WRT the person's comments about rec. centers, yes, I suppose that is an issue (part of it has to do with how the city organizes rec. centers vs. community centers, and is related to my points that we don't have a parks and rec master plan, part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of higher SES people pay for their rec. opportunities at places such as Results, and part is need--for poorer people with access to limited resources, rec. centers can be a key component in their lives).

But wrt bike and ped planning, I argue that rec. centers are potentially key touchpoints for bike and ped programming, and most city and county recreation departments do not provide any bike and ped programming--whenever I travel I try to pick up the activities program guide from local rec. departments, and I always check for this. (WABA does its confident city cycle workshops at rec. centers, but there is no ongoing bike and ped programming.)

In the Baltimore County plan I did, I specifically focused on rec. centers as an opportunity/place from which that kind of programming can be provided. Balt. County is very unusual in that rec./park programming is not provided by staff, but by volunteers. Local committees fund and provide programming. It's focused on team sports for the most part, but a concerted effort could support program development and delivery for bike and ped activities.

The Community College of Baltimore County does have a bike continuing ed. course and one on hiking. In Annapolis, a LAB certified police officer has done courses through their rec. department. And MDOT/Michael Jackson, the state B&P coordinator, was working with Montgomery College (a community college) to develop and deliver a course on biking, although I haven't kept up with the results.

Of course, Arlington's Walk/Bike/FitArlington programs are best practice models for how to organize and deliver programming as well, although I must admit I haven't looked at their work specifically in terms of low income communities.

The City of Toronto, pre-the-current-mayor, did/does bike programming focused on immigrant groups. (They do that in the Netherlands too.)

Although, I do think the person who mentioned the point that BTWD is more about celebration is accurate. (It's what I call "community building.") That's very important, true, especially when bicycling is still, at least outside of center cities, seen as being about "the other."

But it's just not necessarily the right program for systematically engaging in new audiences, unless the whole program development and delivery structure is changed.

Note that this session at the Nat. Bike Summit, "Building Successful Programs in Diverse Neighborhoods", was very good. It wasn't a general program, but focused on Lower East Side Manhattan.

Similarly, I didn't see the presentation but there was also a session on Long Beach's Bicycle Friendly Business Districts program.

Those are models for more systematic engagement of diverse segments for biking as transportation.

With regard to the image thing that some people have mentioned. Sure. It's key. But the thing about biking is that if you're in the right place, it's the cheapest and fastest way to get around. It also is exercise, which is key for many people (including myself, my father died at 54 years of age of a heart attack--I bike because I am not organized enough to join a gym, and I need the health benefits to ward off premature death).

It's about marketing more than anything else. Sure the auto industry spends tons on ads, but we just have to focus on the market segments--center cities primarily--where we have the lowest cost opportunity to be very successful, because the distances from home to work/school/other destinations tend to be shorter and the road network, even without dedicated infrastructure, serves bicyclists reasonably well.

I think it's mostly about failures in vision, organizing, delivery, and yes, funding, especially failure in providing programming.

by Richard Layman on May 26, 2012 9:08 am • linkreport

Erik Weber & David Alpert,

Thank you for this article. This is a real issue. BTWD is a "celebration" as one commenter pointed out. It is advocacy as others pointed out. It might serve any number of purposes.

But whatever the purpose of BTWD, why doesn't this event attract the largest demographic of today's bicycle commuters not properly represented -- hispanic males?

I'm not sure if they actually are the largest demographic of today's bicycle commuters, but I think its a fair guess for at least northern Virginia. For every one caucasian man riding his bike to or from work in traffic, on the sidewalk or on a bike trail, I see at least 4 hispanic men riding their clunky, heavy steel bikes on the sidewalk. That ratio gets even higher in the dead of winter.

So its not like having a more diverse participation at BTWD would require organizers to get these minorities to begin riding -- they ALREADY do ride.

As was pointed out in the article and by commenters, perhaps we could get better participation from these hispanic men by;
1) informing them of the event (and the free giveaways) through their workplaces -- oftentimes restaurants, or through their apartment complexes;
2) keeping BTWD pit stops open during the periods they ride to work (ex: 10AM -- noon and noon -- 2PM restaurant shifts);
3) soliciting BTWD pit stop volunteers from partner groups like hispanic churches or sports leagues;
4) making the BTWD pit stop itself somehow much more overtly welcoming and diverse, like playing latino music or having large signs/banners is spanish.

Again, thanks to Erik & David for the article.

by Flimflam on May 26, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

You just need a pit-stop at the Takoma Park/Langley crossroads at BTWD. It's all about location, just give up whatever prejudices you have about that area and do it.

by funInSun25 on May 26, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

Agree that there needs to be outreach to the Hispanic community. This large group of cyclists seems to be totally neglected in outreach efforts.

by Fredg on May 26, 2012 7:20 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't focus on trying to grow Bike to Work Day; it's just one day of the year, and while its visibility is a form of advocacy, in some ways it's just a celebration.

I know a little bit about WABA's outreach efforts. In the last year, those have included measures designed to reach a wide range of people, including roving bike clinics concentrating on areas east of the river, posting one or two people along major bike routes, and offering classes at workplaces, rec centers, and schools.

Anyone remember those fall bike light giveaways? Big tables on 18th St and along other bike routes in the evening? The events have been redesigned so that they target, among others, people riding home from restaurant jobs. No more tents, lower visibility, just volunteers watching for riders without lights.

Bike to Work Day has an entirely different purpose. It's about strengthening community, not growing the tent. Advocacy organizations use this day to gain new members and to encourage renewals. We need that too.

by David R. on May 27, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

I think BTWD does grow the tent. Every year there are people who try biking to work for the first time on BTWD, and some of them go on to be regular bike commuters. There's even a study that backs this up. It gives people a chance to try it out without feeling weird (it is the DAY after all).

by David C on May 28, 2012 7:40 pm • linkreport

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