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Many Miles to Go

Are Women and Minorities Missing the Bike Boom?



PORTLAND OFFICIALS HOPE one in four residents will regularly get on a bicycle by 2030. But a new report by a leading bicycle advocacy group shows how city leaders are falling short: On Portland's bike paths, women, poor people, and minorities are getting left behind.

"More than 25 percent of Portlanders and over 45 percent of [schoolchildren] are people of color. And yet ridership does not reflect this. We wondered why," says the 12-page report, called "Understanding Barriers to Bicycling," prepared by the Community Cycling Center (CCC).

The CCC assembled its report over the past 18 months, thanks to a $70,000 grant from Metro ["Bicycle Race," News, Nov 19, 2009]. It offers no hard numbers tracking bicyclists by race or income, but says anecdotal evidence gleaned from a survey and 70 community meetings indicates that if Portland is going to meet its goal, "more must be done to address the needs of Portland's increasingly diverse population."

The main concerns are simple: the cost of buying a bike, worries about personal safety, and having no way to repair or safely store a bike. Of the 148 people who completed CCC's survey, 62 percent of Latinos and 74 percent of African immigrants, for example, said they did not own a bike because they are too expensive.

"Anecdotally, we heard that bikes are toys, bikes are for kids, we heard some about bikes being symbols of gentrification," says Alison Graves, the CCC's community and programs director.

On the night of Thursday, August 26, a racially mixed group of nearly 40 people gathered on NE 102nd for a city- and CCC-sponsored "Equity Ride."

"We should look at the people and places in our community that have been historically overlooked, who lack the resources like bike lanes and sidewalks that others take for granted," said Shelli Romero, an Oregon Department of Transportation public affairs advocate, before the group set out for the new I-205 bike path.

One rider, Debora Leopold Hutchins, said she was inspired to start a bike club for black women after riding in the 2,000-person Cycle Oregon ride 10 years ago. "I loved it, but I was the only African American out there," says Hutchins. But she has had some trouble persuading her friends to hit the road. "A lot of my friends don't like riding on the street, they feel unsafe."

The city is aware of the challenges. To promote biking among lower-ridership groups, for example, it has started issuing bike maps in Spanish and sponsoring women-only rides.

While stats showing ridership by race or income aren't available, census data shows a clear gender split: 7.3 percent of Portland men rode their bikes to work in 2008, versus 4.4 percent of women.

Portland State University researcher Jennifer Dill looked into that discrepancy back in 2008, using GPS responders to track how men and women ride in the city. She found that women opt for safer routes, like quiet bike boulevards and off-street paths, and are less likely to ride on busy, on-street bike lanes.

But only 76 of Portland's 317 miles of bike lanes and paths are off-street, so until the city beefs up its supply of safer routes, the stats show that women are likely to stick to cars and buses.

Read the cycling center's "Understanding Barriers" report, here.

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