The Invisible Cyclists

By individuals, governments, bike advocacy groups, and even myself, it has been assumed that most bicyclists bike for environmental purposes or joy. As explained by Andrew Keatts, this generation has classified bicyclists as “cool kid urban hipsters.” However, this is not an accurate association. While there certainly are bicyclists that bike in an effort to limit their impact on the environment, it has been found in a recent census that most cyclists are low-income people, biking for financial purposes. Nationwide, 49% of bicyclists earn less than $25,000 per year. They are not biking for an environmental cause or in response to an urban trend, but because biking is cheaper than driving.

These low-income bikers have recently been deemed the name “invisible cyclists” by many advocacy groups. Although this seems like a bit of a degrading name, it is being used in the hopes of strengthening this group’s impact on biking. Along with this, the name has both literal and figurative meanings. These cyclists are often hard to see at night because many of them do not have lights on their bikes. More importantly, these bikers are not seen at bike advocacy events. They are biking because that is their only option. They are not interested in the bike infrastructure that surrounds them, and they do not spend time waiting for the city to help. They need to get to work, and they are doing so regardless of their biking environment.

Currently, most of these bikers are not involved in advocacy movements, but they need to be. They represent half of the biking community, and they are currently very underrepresented. There exists a cultural gap between bike advocates and invisible cyclists. Bicycling has been marketed as an urban lifestyle and chic fashion by advocates. But, invisible cyclists bike because it is cheap and they need to get to work.

It is the hope that this new census data will create a movement to start diminishing the gap between bike advocates and the low-income bikers. Many advocacy groups have already began breaking down this barrier, and adjusting their projects to fit the needs of these other cyclists. In Los Angeles, direct outreach efforts to people who bike in low-income communities are taking place. The Multicultural Communities for Mobility has implemented programs that have reached 700 low-income riders and offered them legal and safety workshops, as well as distributed bike lights and helmets. In San Diego, an organization called Bike San Diego has recognized that bike advocates in America use Europe’s city design as a model. Using European cities as models leads to infrastructure as a solution. Bike San Diego is convinced that this will not help invisible cyclists. They will bike regardless of the infrastructure, because they have to. East Side Riders, another San Diego organization advocates for bike safety and organizes group rides in the community. In Houston, Traffic Engineers Incorporated is hosting meetings where the low-income riders live, since they often cannot show up at locations far from their home. It is hopeful that other advocacy groups will follow the ways of these groups, allowing cyclists from every socioeconomic group to be fairly represented, creating a better bicycling environment for everyone.

Written by Kara Sjostrom, ESLLC 2015-2016

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