Bike to Work Day 2012: Benchmarking our progress
|Baldwin County, Alabama. From this line up, pick out the bike advocates who’re guilty of doing all the heavy lifting, being fearless, and not taking ‘no’ for an answer.|
Happy Bike to Work Day! The opportunity to celebrate BTWD on two wheels was a welcome relief from all the other biker holidays I have spent on the road, on four wheels, for the cause. So let us mark this occasion–another safe ride to work–by looking in the mirror (not the one attached to our helmets) and asking ourselves how well we are doing with creating equity in our transportation system. Judging by the trails of northern Virginia, I have to say: not very well, because 9 in 10 riders that passed me were wearing lycra, intent on passing everything from of them, and sporting the XY chromosomes. That gender balance does change–noticeably–once one reaches the streets of the District of Columbia, where we begin to encounter public bike share, protected facilities, and bike lanes. Coincidence? I don’t know; what I do know if that if we are to become a movement, we must continual measure ourselves against our answers to these two questions:
- Are we a group that reflects this large and diverse country of ours?; and
- Are we a group that people would like to be a part of?
As Conference Director, I am in the enviable position of going with the flow when it comes to diversity: the majority of our presenters are women (over 130!); the Local Host Committee is powered by dynamic women like Melissa Balmer and Andrea White-Kjoss; and Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012 will be the site of the first National Women’s Cycling Summit that will immediately follow our final plenary on Thursday, September 13.
Getting it right on the streets will require a new way of considering the needs of our customers. Peter Furth’s work on measuring connectivity according to user stress levels, and not merely paint on the road, is one example of provocative new thinking that will be featured at Pro Walk/Pro Bike, and which may help us build a more equitable transportation system.
A new approach to analyzing bicycling networks takes the user’s perspective of what links are “bikeable.” Most people are not willing to ride on roads with high levels of traffic stress. Their bikeable network can vary from typical bike networks that show the bicycling facilities a city has provided. Many so-called bike facilities impose a level of traffic stress that many people will not tolerate; examples include signed bike routes on 30 mph multilane streets and bike lanes that force cyclists to merge across high speed travel lanes when the curb lane becomes a right turn lane. At the same time, cities have many streets that lack formal bike provisions, yet are safe for cycling because of low traffic speeds and volumes. Applying a new typology to San Jose, CA, we classify all the city’s streets into four levels of traffic stress. Stress mapping then reveals the “bikable” network for different tolerable levels of traffic stress. For lower levels of stress, the network can have poor connectivity, broken by barriers such as freeways and arterials that are not safe to ride on, lack safe crossings, and lack alternative parallel routes. Stress maps show how people who will tolerate only a low level of traffic stress are often confined to a small neighborhood and unable to ride to destinations beyond it.
Diversity can be taken to far, however….