Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wichita's not-so-visible cyclists--beginning the conversation

[UPDATE: Welcome to folks visiting here from Biking in L.A. I hope you'll not be too disappointed that you found your way here.]

This picture is from a neighborhood in Queens, New York, but such a scene is not at all uncommon north of downtown in Wichita, either. Image found here.

One of the hardest jobs cycle-advocacy people have ahead of them in most places, but especially in a city like Wichita, is to re-frame the case for on-street, in-town cycling infrastructure so that can be seen as filling a genuine need. That need, moreover, is best described as "economic," and in exactly the same sense that many road projects are described as filling economic needs: shorter/safer travel times. That re-framing needs to happen not just for non-cyclists, who tend to think of cycling primarily in recreational terms, but also for themselves, for whom cycling is a choice and not a necessity that circumstance has forced on them.

Streetsblog recently had an article that serves as a good place to begin that re-framing. The writer, Sarah Goodyear, uses a post from the North Carolina blog Honking in Traffic as its starting point; the following passage comes from that blog:
The Latino immigrant bike commuting out of necessity is a rare sight out on the country roads. But it’s not so rare in cities and towns across this country. According to the Alliance for Biking & Walking report [which I made reference to yesterday], while Hispanics now make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 22 percent of total bike trips. If this data is accurate, then that population is overrepresented among bicyclists, while perhaps underrepresented in the popular media image of who bicyclists are[.]
I don't claim any special righteousness on this matter; it is true, though, that the daily sight of working-class and street people on bicycles in the neighborhoods immediately north of downtown was what initially moved me to consider cycling as a regular mode of transportation. It's for these folks' reasons as well that I've applauded the Midtown Bike Path as providing the very practical services of a safe route to school for kids in the neighborhood and a safe, off-street commute route into the urban core.

But more can and should be done along these lines. With regard to NOMAR and the revitalization of 21st Street, for example, unless I've just not seen it, I've seen nothing in those plans that accommodates cyclists, and nothing that serves further to link that part of town with the urban core (the midtown path, after all, is over on the northwest side of downtown). Yet, doing so, via a couple of well-chosen re-striping projects running north-south, would be a practical--and inexpensive--no-brainer. The current bike projects emphasize connectivity between already-existing bike infrastructure, and those are of course important. But equally--more, I would claim--important is the providing of space for safe, on-street cycling in those parts of town where people ride not for fun but out of need and where riding on poorly-maintained sidewalks is hazardous. I hope to encourage a dialogue among those who may be reading this who live north of downtown and those of us not part of this underserved neighborhood, that together we can re-frame cycling's image to include its serving a practical economic need for a large number of fellow citizens.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted Councilman Paul Gray's dismissive attitude toward the needs of cyclists--in particular, his statement that he didn't know anyone who biked to work. I said by way of response that "there are lots of people you don't know--and many of them would ride bikes to work if the city would spend a few tens of thousands of dollars and re-stripe a few streets." I'd like to amend that statement a bit: There are lots of people who already do bike to work--and, if you'd literally just look out your office window or the doors of City Hall, you'd see them. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you should meet some of them.


Dave said...

Are you kidding me? This Gray guy actually said he didn't know anybody who bikes to work? Using that as a reason for not supporting some minor infrastructure changes? Well I don't know that many small minded morons but I guess somebody does so they can get elected to the city council, or county or whatever.
This makes me crazy!
I don't like to generalize, but this is the attitude to a great many problems in our world/country..."well geez I don't know any poor people so why do my taxes have to help them, that's somebody else's problem. I don't have anything real constructive to add; that yutzes' comment just drove me up the wall. I'll try to be more positive in the future.

MathDadd said...

DOT Sec'y Ray La Hood has announced an initiative to stimulate bike commuting. This has to mean federal funding for infrastructure. Wichita local gov't loves federal funding, that's how our original bike trails were built.

When Paul Gray sees the money, he'll become a bike-commuting supporter. ;-)

I'm seeing some riders here do more to make riding in traffic more manageable, specifically they're using MagicShine $90 headlights that tremendously increase riders' frontal visibility to drivers. These affordable lights are in the luminosity-realm of what cost $400+ just 2 years ago (900 lumens nominal, 600-700 independently tested, the latter still being very, very bright).

Taillight bang-for-buck performance is still lagging, which is sad, but it should catch up this year or next.

MathDadd said...


hector said...

Great article! This a nice image where bike parking is on its balcony.

Kenneth Gibbons LLC said...

Great Article