Tag Archives: Bicycles

Women Flex their Biking Muscles


Amy George

by Amy George

Riding a bicycle can be transformative to physical and mental well being, to families, to neighborhoods, and beyond. As cycling becomes more popular, more women and girls are enjoying its effects. However, representation among cyclists still tips male — 76% as measured per-ride in the U.S. Yet recent surveys show women overwhelmingly have a positive view of cycling. What is keeping so many women from taking to the streets on two wheels? Furthermore, why should we care, and what can be done about it?

Since 2010, Richmond as a community has taken several big steps in bicycle advocacy. RideRichmond formed that year, as did Mayor Dwight Jones’ Bike, Trail, and Pedestrian Commission. We have seen the creation of the dedicated, professional action and advocacy groups such as  Sportsbackers’ BikeWalkRVA and the VCU RamBikes program. In this landscape of growing bike-positivity, RideRichmond realized that women’s representation still is an underserved aspect of cycling advocacy. As believers in the bicycle, we could not stand by and watch the benefits of cycling distributed unequally to Richmonders. In order to begin this conversation, RideRichmond is hosting the first Richmond Women’s Cycling Summit on October 23 at the Virginia War memorial.

Fortunately, we’re riding a wave of good research and Women’s Cycling efforts across the nation. The long-held line on women’s resistance to cycling was one of “fear and fashion”. (“The cars! The helmet hair!”) It turns out, when you really ask women how they feel about cycling, the answers are much more practical.

The League of American Bicyclists’ excellent Women On A Roll report proposes five C’s that will get more women biking. These address the eight major issues that most surveys report as the barriers to women and cycling. Some highlights:

Convenience. It should be easy to park your bike wherever you go: work, shopping, entertainment destinations. Bike-friendly retail makes good business sense, and women statistically make more shopping trips and control more of their household’s disposable income. At work, access to lockers and showers alleviates concerns about storing clean clothes and grooming. Transit connections, especially express buses, can “multiply mobility” by traversing high-speed arterials and highways, with the bike as a means of transport for the first/last mile. (Biking to the current GRTC Park-and-Ride locations is a daunting prospect.)  Plus, there are other, less tangible needs such as more flexible working hours for parents (both moms and dads), and more walkable neighborhoods that safely allow children to transport themselves to school and after-school activities.

Confidence. Aggressive and distracted drivers threaten everyone, but women are more likely to admit fear. Bike education can begin at school, first in Phys. Ed. and continuing through driver’s education.  One day in a Traffic Skills 101 class can equip young cyclists and their parents with knowledge of skills like proper lane positioning (to prevent “dooring”) and simple, safe evasive maneuvers. Parents can teach basic maintenance techniques like changing a flat tire and secure locking in an afternoon. Even the students that don’t take to cycling will become drivers who know “Share the Road” as a practice, not just a pithy slogan.

Consumer Products. Sixty percent of bicycle owners 17 to 28 are women. Bicycle riding ranked 9th of 47 popular sports for total female participation in 2011, surpassing yoga, tennis, and softball. But many adult bike models don’t include a size small enough to fit a rider under 5’4”. A woman who can find a bike to fit her must then contend with frames and apparel mostly in pink, lavender, powder blue, and florals. These designs might stand on their own, but can you imagine tennis or softball gear selling in these “soft” presentations?

Community. The fun of riding a bicycle is amplified when you ride with others. Whether for enjoyment, fitness, or as transportation, it’s important to frame bicycling as an everyday activity. Invite a friend to go for a ride. Have a destination or reward. Lead no-drop rides. Help your daughters understand that bicycles are fun, but not merely toys. Incorporate cycling into family’s activities.

Consider for yourself whether it’s better to look fat on a bike, working toward your fitness, or in a car, making zero gains to your health. We are all busy, and making the time to dedicate to fitness is a challenge, but cycling is an easy way to workout while also being social, doing errands, or commuting.

On a larger scale, focus on local advocacy with an eye to equity and connecting lower income neighborhoods with access to jobs, food, and services. Vote for candidates that support high levels of funding for alternative transportation and infrastructure.

If the idea of encouraging a healthier, happier, region for all sounds appealing, it is our hope that you  join us on the 23rd to become a part of this growing effort.

Amy George is the Women’s Cycling Summit Coordinator.

Map of the Day: Cycling to Work


The number of U.S. workers who traveled to work by bicycle increased from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in 2008-2012, the largest percentage increase of any transportation mode, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau based upon its annual American Community Survey. Fully one percent of the population in the nation’s largest cities commute by bicycle now.

The percentage of Virginians who bicycle to work is lower than the national average, as can be seen in the map above published by the Census Bureau.

Males are twice as likely to bicycle to work as women nationally, and lower income workers are more than two to three times more likely than Americans in higher income brackets. Hispanics and white are twice as likely to use bicycles as African-Americans.

The political economy of bicycling. There are two closely aligned constituencies that agitate for making American cities more bicycle friendly: environmentalists and urbanists. The enviros love cycling because it causes no pollution and emits no greenhouse gases. Urbanists, most of whom are environmentalists as well, also support cycling because it takes automobiles off the road, ameliorating congestion and reducing the demand for automobile parking. Both of these constituencies skew heavily to the educated white demographic.

However, Hispanics are more likely than any ethnic group to ride bicycles to work. That’s all the more interesting when you consider how in many regions Hispanic immigrants have settled in the suburbs. By contrast, African-Americans are less likely than any ethnic group to bicycle to work. Is there a cultural difference here? Do Hispanic immigrants come from countries where riding bicycles to work was a prevalent form of transportation? I don’t know, but it’s worth looking into.

Regardless, I would suggest that the bicycle lobby — I can only hope that it will one day grow to become known as Big Bicycle — expand its advocacy of bicycles beyond the environmental and urbanist justifications, as legitimate as they are. Bicycles also should be a means of mobility for the poor. There is no cheaper form of transportation. Even poor people can afford to purchase bicycles; charitable organizations in Richmond are collecting used bicycles and giving them to poor people for free. For poor workers lacking access to automobiles, bicycles expand the range they can cover on foot by a factor of three or four.

All I hear from the anti-poverty groups is the need to expand and subsidize mass transit. You could turn the average city into a bicycler’s paradise for the fraction of the cost of adding Bus Rapid Transit or light rail — and you wouldn’t incur the same operating deficits year after year. As for Republicans, conservatives and others who are reflexively skeptical of investing in bicycle infrastructure, I’m surprised they haven’t positioned bicycles as an alternative means of helping the poor access jobs at a fraction of the cost. Let’s see a little more imagination, guys!


Map of the Day: Where the Cyclists Are

Source: Strava Global Heatmap

Source: Strava Global Heatmap. (Click for larger image.)

Strava Labs maintains a database of where runners and cyclists using its smart-phone fitness app are running and riding. The data set includes nearly 77 million rides and 20 million runs. The heat map above shows where cycling activity is the most intense across the state. (Sorry about cutting off Southwest Virginia and the Virginia Creeper Trail!) Clearly, more cycling occurs where there are more people — the activity occurs mainly within metropolitan and micropolitan regions. The biggest surprise to me is how strong, relatively speaking, cycling is in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area. Less surprisingly, the activity is strong in the college towns of Charlottesville and Harrisonburg. east_coast A higher altitude perspective gives quite a different picture. Virginia looks like a relative wasteland set between the Washington-Boston corridor and even the Raleigh-Atlanta corridor. The City of Richmond may have hosted the college cycling championship and is prepping to hold the world cycling championship but the metropolitan region barely registers on the heat map. Hampton Roads also makes a poor showing. (Hat tip:Streetsblog USA.) – JAB

Where In the World Is Jim Bacon?

citibike2Nowhere as exciting as the places Matt Lauer goes… but pretty exciting for Jim Bacon. The spouse and I stopped here on the way to our final destination for one evening to help a friend celebrate her 60th birthday. I could not visit without snapping at least one photo pertaining to transportation and human settlement patterns. Three guesses where we are… and the last two don’t count.



Bicycling in Paradise


One of California’s greatest assets is its climate, and San Francisco, though foggier than nearby locales, is no exception. Climatically speaking, the city is as close to paradise as any location on the planet, which makes it a great place to spend outdoors and a great place to bicycle. As one would expect, San Francisco has an advanced bicycle infrastructure, with some dedicated bike lanes and lots of sharrows. Also bicycling is embedded deeply enough in the transportation system that you don’t feel like you’re taking your life into your hands when you share the roads with cars.

Quite possibly the bike lane with the most awesome views in the world.

Quite possibly the bike lane with the most awesome views in the world.

Having spent only a couple of days here, I cannot profess any expertise on the biking scene, but it seems pretty clear that with all the mass transit — between buses, light rail, trolley cars and cable cars, San Francisco may have more different types of mass transit than any other city in the world — not to mention ZipCar and Uber, anyone can get around perfectly well owning a bicycle instead of a car. The main drawback to establishing a strong bicycling culture here is the hills — they’re not for the weak.

One of the things I like about San Francisco is that, although it is very dense (the second densest city after New York City, as I recall), it is as not automobile-hostile as Manhattan. Owning your own car is not an act of folly, as it would be for most Gothamites. Thus, the city offers the widest possible array of transportation choices. (The way the city handles parking is particularly interesting. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.)

Clearly, the end product is something that people value highly. Between the superior economic opportunities afforded by the technology- and innovation-economy in the San Francisco Bay region, the divine climate and the quality of human settlement patterns, people have bid up the price of real estate to astronomical levels.


Bacon Bits: Bicycles and Baseball Stadiums

bacon_bitsThe Easy Out. Writing in Henrico Monthly John Gerner, a Richmond-based leisure industry consultant, takes Richmond City Hall’s assumption that building a new baseball stadium requires public funding. Ballparks are often built with little or no public funding, he writes:

Greensboro’s privately financed ballpark that was built to accommodate a AA minor league baseball team, just like the Richmond Flying Squirrels. There are other ballparks currently being planned elsewhere in Virginia, but only Richmond’s would be publicly funded. Often, the development costs are lower when stadiums are privately financed. The developer takes the risks. If it doesn’t work, the private developer takes the hit financially. If it does work, the developer keeps the cost savings.

A privately financed ballpark in Richmond would likely return its location back to the Boulevard, where the region wants it. For the long-term viability of baseball in Richmond, it needs regional support. Most of the fans come from outside the city, primarily from Chesterfield and Henrico. Political leaders in the suburbs know this. If the location were shifted back to the Boulevard, there would likely be another opportunity to forge a regional effort there through shared incentives for this privately financed ballpark.

Huh? Life-Cycle Costs? Meanwhile, in his WTVR blog, Paul Goldman points out a flaw in City Hall’s proposed financing for the proposed Shockoe Bottom location of the stadium. The city’s bond financing will stretch 30 years. That makes sense, if you believe the city’s assertion that the stadium will have a useful life of 35 years. Just one problem, Goldman points out: No stadium has a useful life of 35 years.

The Diamond opened in 1985. Twenty-nine years later, it’s supposedly obsolete. Writes Goldman:

“After 20 years, technology advances, changing fan demands, local business needs, and more makes a Stadium obsolete. This is why we have seen all those new stadiums around the country in the last 20 years!

Within the 30-year lease signed by the Squirrels, the “new” stadium is going to be in need of hugely expensive renovations unless Mayor Jones’ secret plan is to build a new one back on the Boulevard!

Won’t it be fun 20 years from now if the Richmond Flying Squirrels proclaim the “new” Shockoe stadium to be obsolete and asks the city to make millions of dollars in renovations…. or else. Just one problem — Richmond still will have 10 years to run on its bonds for the old ballpark!

You’re Busting my Bikes! Writing on his blog, “Mapping the Commonwealth,” Luke Juday is all fired up by the large fines and penalties his Charlottesville friends are paying for traffic infractions. He offers four reasons why the system is a bad one:

1. The cost of a ticket is disproportionate to the cost of owning and riding a bicycle.

2. Bicycles are not 2-ton hunks of metal that go 70 m.p.h. and kill thousands of people a year. It is often difficult or impossible for bicyclists to follow the rules safely.

4. Motorists are rarely held responsible for collisions with bicycles, making it awfully hypocritical to charge them as if they are equals on the road.

I’m all in favor of making our streets “complete streets” shared by cars, pedestrians and bicycles. We need to shift the “rules of the road” in city streets back in favor of bikes and pedestrians. But in fairness, automobiles do not normally travel 70 m.p.h. in 25 m.p.h. speed zones. And many bicyclists often do behave recklessly (not Luke’s friends, of course, but other cyclists). I suspect we’re facing years of trench warfare between drivers and cyclists before we reach a new equilibrium.


Bicycle Wars

Alexandria street scene. (Image credit: Wall Street Journal.)

Alexandria street scene. (Image credit: Wall Street Journal.)

by James A. Bacon

The bicycle wars are coming to Virginia as cyclists literally fight to take back the streets.

For decades the issue was settled — the streets belonged to automobiles, with pedestrians confined to sidewalks as second-class citizens. Bicycles didn’t figure into street design at all. But those days are over as increasingly assertive cyclists agitate to carve out space for bicycle lanes and bicycle parking.

In an op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, F.H. Buckley conveys a flavor of the struggle for King Street in Alexandria. The City of Alexandria has proposed taking away the street’s parking spaces to make way for a bike lane. Buckley portrays his neighbors and himself as victims of politically organized biking activists who utilize blogs and Twitter to mobilize for public protests and City Council hearings. 

Homeowners feel aggrieved because they are accustomed to having free parking on their streets. “We’re really attached to our parking spot,” Buckley writes. “We like to tell our friends to drop by anytime. We don’t want to send out plumbers to park a few blocks over, on streets that are already congested.” The city’s response — get visitors a special parking permit from city hall, or hire valet parking — is not geared to sooth homeowners’ distress.

Buckley sees this local controversy, not inaccurately, a part of a “growing national movement that pits local homeowners and businesses against cyclists and their trendy allies on city councils.”

The cyclist retort is that American streets once were open to all comers — cars, pedestrians, cyclists… even horses and buggies. But in the pre-World War II era, access was increasingly restricted to cars. Over time, urban transportation arteries took on an entirely new look as street widths, lane widths, turning radii and parking spaces were configured for the exclusive care and feeding automobiles. In a highly political process, local boards and councils advanced the automobile agenda street by street. Now the wheel (so to speak) is turning.

Sad to say, the King Street bicycle controversy seems destined to get emotional because the struggle over public space is a zero-sum game — space for bicycles comes from space formerly dedicated to cars. There seems to be little room for compromise.

Personally, I am a big proponent of making urban communities more bicycle friendly. But having been an urban homeowner in a neighborhood with a parking shortage, I am also sympathetic to homeowners distraught at the prospect of losing parking spaces. Homeowners feel that they have a “right” to parking in their neighborhoods — perhaps not always directly in front of their houses, but at least within a reasonable distance. No one likes parking a block or more away and carrying home grocery bags in the rain. (My wife cited precisely that reason as justification for moving to the suburbs to a house with an attached garage.) Likewise, bicyclists don’t want to pay for access to public streets. Cars drive for free (unless you count the taxes drivers pay), why shouldn’t they?

Here is the root problem: If an asset, such as space on a public street, is publicly owned, people will fight over that space in the political arena. One group’s gain means another group loses. There is no win-win here, only win-lose.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but there has to be something than better than one side triumphing over the other through raw political power. Perhaps there is some way to convert parking spaces into a form of property that can be bought, sold, traded, bartered and even condemned through eminent domain. In an ideal world, the space would evolve to its highest and greatest use as measured by how much people are willing to pay to use it. Of course, that won’t satisfy either homeowners or cyclists who think they have a right to access that valuable urban space for free.

If we don’t find a better way, neighborhood battles over cylists’ rights to the road will get ugly and bitter, and the ill feelings engendered actually could impede what cyclists desire, which is the integration of bikes into the fabric of urban transportation. Cyclists need to remember — there are a lot  more homeowners and motorists than cyclists. If the bicycle wars get too polarized, the homeowners and motorists likely will win.

Update: Tanya Snyder over at D.C. Streets Blog blasts the Buckley op-ed. “When there are too many cars for the roads in your town, the problem is that there are too many cars — not that there are too few roads. Eliminating the one sliver of roadway where people are riding bikes is not going to solve motorists’ problems.”

More Awesomeness in Richmond

Another reason I love my home town: Richmond has 40 miles of world-class single-track bicycle trails. I’ve been on a few of them, although, I do confess, I don’t ride nearly as fast as the two guys in this short video! (Nor can I do the neat wheelie tricks up and down stairs.)

What I find especially cool is that the biking enthusiasts — trail gnomes, in their own parlance — help maintain the trails for everyone’s benefit. They clear routes of fallen trees and debris (as shown in the clip), prune vegetation and repair sections worn away by run-off. It’s an all-volunteer effort.

Biking trails in wild public spaces in the center of the city are a rarity and a gem.


Building a Culture of Cycling

Arlington County has set the goal of becoming the most bicycle-friendly community on the East Coast, and it has devoted serious resources to make it happen. The task takes more than building bike lanes and painting sharrows — it takes changing the culture of transportation, as explained in this video produced by the county.

The hoped-for payoff: Arlington will be able to absorb tens of thousands of new residents and employee without impairing the ability of citizens to get around. The county is vulnerable charges of wasting money on frivolities like million-dollar bus stops but it has done a brilliant job of proving that density need not cause congestion.


Bicycle Commuting up Nine Percent

bike_commutersI was driving through one of Henrico County’s most heavily traveled intersections at Parham Road and Patterson Avenue a few days ago when I encountered a remarkable sight: two bicyclists waiting at the stoplight. They weren’t riding together. One was traveling north on Parham and the other heading east on Patterson.

That location is the last spot I’d expect to find anyone riding a bicycle — the suburban roads are totally engineered for the movement of automobiles. But there they were. That’s when it dawned on me: utility cycling isn’t just for downtown Richmond. It’s spreading everywhere.

No questions, change is afoot, or perhaps I should say, apedal. The U.S Census’s American Community Survey has just released data showing that bicycle commuting in the United States increased 9 percent last year, bringing it to an all-time high.

Cycling still remains a tiny transportation-mode niche, accounting for only six-tenths of one percent of the commuting public. But it looms increasingly important in transportation policy. Those 865,000 cyclists are not driving cars, taking up parking spaces and generating pollution.

Moreover, as the D.C. Streets Blog notes, “the growth in bicycling isn’t taking place in a vacuum.” Large cities like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are competing to add the most bike lanes. Even Indianapolis and Memphis are expanding bicycle infrastructure. “Any wagers on how much bike commuting will increase in next year’s Census?”

Meanwhile, the bicycle industry is continually innovating, offering cool new designs and hybrid products like electric bicycles, which makes cycling attractive to new categories of riders.

The bad news is that walking to work is shrinking as a share of commutes, surely a disappointment to those (like me) who hoped that the resurgence of downtown living and building of more walkable, mixed-use communities would lessen dependence upon the automobile. It will take decades to entice a majority of Americans out of their cars — indeed, given continued automotive innovations that make driving cars more attractive, that goal may never be achieved.