Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Eight "mutual assistance programs" that can build support for biking as transportation on the part of low income communities

There is a documentary, more than ten years old, called "Flag Wars," about "gentrification" in the Olde Towne East neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, full of huge Victorian frame houses, how the neighborhood was experiencing an influx of white, mostly Gay residents, in an area that had been historically black.

One of the problems for older poorer residents is that the houses are huge and costly and expensive to maintain, even for people who are well off.

One of the sub-themes was how certain "new" residents were very active in calling housing code enforcement on households, usually older and black, where the properties weren't being properly maintained or had "outsider art"-like elements.

For a variety of reasons, there was tremendous animosity towards the new residents on the part of the legacy residents.

Journey Christian Church volunteer Don Biggs and other church members donated their efforts to work on the house of Estherine Bell in Richmond's Fulton neighborhood as part of the 50 home daylong annual event by Rebuilding Together of Richmond. - JOE MAHONEY, Richmond Times-Dispatch.

I wondered why instead of fostering animosity, couldn't the new residents have worked to build better relationships with older residents by helping them out and organizing a home repair assistance program, a kind of "Amish barn raising" program or the equivalent of the housing improvement programs done by various Rebuilding Together affiliates.

That would have gone a long way towards community building and would improve the neighborhood for everyone, without regard to household income.

The same goes for biking as transportation.  Given that I've been biking for transportation since 1990, I don't believe there is some big white conspiracy involved in creating bike lanes in cities ("Can some big D.C. churches fight off a bike lane?," Washington Post), even if people less enlightened on transportation policy think so:
“This ain’t London, this ain’t Europe. The United States is built on the automobile and we need to respect that,” said Michael Green, a deacon at New Bethel Baptist Church.
which I have written about more generally here, "Urg: bad studies don't push the discourse or policy forward | biking in low income communities (in DC) edition,"

The reality is that biking for transportation is still at the early adopter phase, and in innovation diffusion theory, for the most part the less well off generally are not at the forefront of the adoption of new technologies, people need help to change their routines and adopt new behaviors ("The Power of a Gentle Nudge: Phone Calls, Even Voice Recordings, Can Get People to Go to the Gym," Wall Street Journal).

The best way to build bridges with people of color and/or low income communities on sustainable mobility practice is to develop what we might call "mutual assistance programs," designed to help make biking more inclusive.

In "Urg" I wrote:
Comparatively speaking, bicycling take up is low for all demographic segments, regardless of income, but even lower for most lower income segments (with some exceptions, like Hispanics, see "Spelling out bike safety in Spanish" New York Times). 
These barriers are not unique to low income populations, but lower income households likely need additional programmatic support to assist the adoption of bicycling as a regularized mode of transportation. What we need are focused policy solutions to move change forward. 
Because most people are not particularly adept at thinking in terms of systems or structural solutions (you can call it "platforms" or "product-service systems" if you want), most new "studies" are merely a form of "biking in place," instead of moving discourse and policy forward when it comes to these questions.
Here are eight ideas for a more comprehensive approach:

1.  Bikes as tools for improving access to jobs. The Community Cycling Center of Portland has a program that outfits low income residents with bikes and all the requisite support equipment and training, so that they can cycle safely to work.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch ("Notable Gifts: Capital One donates 20 bikes, gear"), Capital One is supporting a similar program there. From the article:
Twenty bicycles donated by Capital One will provide greater access to jobs for participants in the Workforce Pipeline Program at Richmond’s Center for Workforce Innovation.  Capital One volunteers assembled the bicycles with assistance from RideRichmond. Capital One donations also provided safety gear such as helmets for the riders and lights and locks for the bikes. 
... A regional study found that nearly 1,000 additional businesses and 18,000 additional jobs are located within 1.5 miles of the end of the bus line, Manion said.  “We have had several participants that have lost jobs or been unable to get jobs because of this short distance.”
2.  Integrating community bike programs into public recreation centers.  I don't have any good examples of this "in real life" but I suggested doing so in the draft bike and pedestrian plan I wrote for Baltimore County, Maryland.

There are two kinds of community bike promotion programs that are top of mind, bike co-ops and youth bike programs, that ought to be integrated into public recreation and community centers as a matter of course, especially in lower income areas,

Instead of forcing community bike programs to come up with space and the money to keep it going, why not integrate such programs into community recreation centers, which would also make their services more widely available and provide a lot more visibility for biking.

Bike House co-op at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market in 2011.  Photo from the A Bikeable Feast blog.

In the DC area, bike co-ops include The Bike House in Petworth, the  Mt. Rainier Bike Co-op just over the DC border in Maryland, and the VéloCity Bicycle Cooperative in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia.  Bike co-ops usually help people fix bikes, teach basic bike repair, and may hold community rides.

Youth bike programs generally use biking as a way to teach life skills.

Some programs that come to mind are Gearin' Up Bicycles in DC, Phoenix Bikes in Arlington County, Virginia, Recycle-A-Bicycle in New York City (in the past, they've sponsored a national Youth Bike Summit), and Neighborhood Bike Works in Philadelphia ("Well Being: Ride of Dreams takes them far" Philadelphia Inquirer).  NBW is now an independent organization but originally it was a program of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

A program I find particularly impressive is the Ghisallo Bicycle Initiative in Austin, Texas.  It's definitely a model of national best practice.  One of their programs sets up "Bike Club" after-school programs at specific schools, but they have many more equally awesome programs, for all age levels.

Another example, the Major Taylor Bicycle Clubs.  Major Taylor was an African-American bicycle racer.  One active club is in Seattle (Young people find cycling gets the wheels turning", Seattle Times).

3.  Bike donations for children. The Austin American-Statesman ("Build-A-Bike lunches at ABGB: Eat, drink, donate bikes to kids") reports on an interesting holiday fundraiser for the Ghisallo Bicycle Initiative.  From the article:
Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., or ABGB, is teaming with the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative to host Build-A-Bike holiday lunches during the first three weeks of December. Groups can purchase one or two bikes for donation.
Party goers show up for pizza and beer, and mechanics from Ghisallo help them assemble bikes that will be given to children at Perez Elementary School, which serves families hard hit by the latest round of flooding on Onion Creek. The bikes, SE Soda Pop models, will cost the group the discounted price of $170 each and Ghisallo will provide a helmet, bell, lights and lock for each one. Party goers pay for their own food and drink.
What a great program!

4.  Bike bundling programs in public housing.  I've suggested this to a couple of public housing organizations but never got a response.  The idea would be to develop programs similar to bike sharing programs offered by some colleges and universities, where rather than deploying technologically complicated and expensive sharing systems like Capital Bikeshare, instead they assign a student a bike for a semester for a small fee (or even free), along with a lock and helmet, and usually repair services are included.

Bike parking at the La Visitation public housing building in Sacramento.  Photo from the "How to: Bike Parking" guide by David Baker Architects.

At UCLA they call it the Bike Library ("Bikes all rented out at UCLA Bike Library," Daily Bruin) while at North Central College in Illinois, use of a "rental" Cardinal Red Bike is free, but they have a small number of bikes.

The idea is that public housing residents could get bike access in a similar way, and it could be bundled into the cost of renting an apartment.  Of course, there would need to be protected and very secure bike parking installed as part of the program.

5.  Integrating community bike programs into public housing.  Larger public housing programs could integrate bike co-op/youth cycling programs comparable to those discussed above in point #2.

6.  Discounted bike sharing memberships on a means-tested basis.  More bike sharing programs provide discounted memberships for low income residents. the second least expensive program is Boston's which charges $5, but Montgomery County Maryland goes further with their MC Liberty program, which provides free membership (for a limited number of participants).

7.  Donating abandoned and unclaimed bikes to programs serving low income populations. Another way to expand access is to direct donated bikes to people of limited means.

The City of Boston does this through their Roll It Forward program, and recently Philadelphia did something similar ("City crews collect 73 abandoned bikes," Philadelphia Inquirer) but not as systematically.

8.  Credit union loans to buy bikes.  A few months ago I wrote about a new program by the Virginia Credit Union in Richmond, where they make loans as low as $100, for people to buy bikes.

This could be rolled into "banking the unbanked" initiatives, like DC's Bank on DC program.

Programs like this have a kind of microcredit/microfinance element and can be an inducement to join such programs.

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At 7:22 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

"early adopter"

We've tangled on this before. Rather like smartphone pre apple, it seems a category stuck on early adopter.

Given the size of the millennial cohort (post 1980 births) and how quickly they are aging (over 30 now) I'd say you chances of getting them to pick up bicycling -- to the extent that they haven't early adopted -- is meager.

Start focusing on their kids.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I hope you're wrong... in reality, we're talking about marginal changes. For one, the real area for potential impact is in cities.

But yes, at best we're probably looking at people under 30 in terms of a greater likelihood of take up of biking.

Most people aren't driven by rational thinking and calculation like I am.

When I started biking regularly (1) I had some experience biking as a teen and as a child (2) but I stopped riding once I got my drivers license (3) I cycled a very little bit in college [college is another opportunity to change/reify new behaviors] (4) my parents were moving and my brother brought me the bike in 1990, otherwise they would have tossed it. (5) at that time I was living in the city, didn't have a car, relied on transit and walking, (6) and comparatively, biking was much more efficient to get around compared to transit and walking, I figured that biking would save me at least 30 minutes/day -- the time walking to the Metro or waiting on the platform could instead be spent moving directly to my destination.

Probably too there was some thought about the physical exercise. I was still working at CSPI (nutrition group) and aware of my father's death from heart disease and knowing that I needed to exercise in order to hopefully live longer than he did.

At 10:45 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

This is where that comment came from:

The oldest are already 35, and the younger part of the cohort (18-25) are where you can change minds.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, you're more right than I am in all likelihood. It's tough to get people as they age to take up biking, which is a quantum change in how people get around.

wrt college, cf

Colorado State was named a platinum level bike friendly university. They have almost 24,000 bikes registered. That's huge.

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Well, that is a bit too broad. I'm just saying we have a generational shift going on and the key is getting millennials on bikes, not social justice.

And applying incentives. For the life of me I can' see why the bikeshare app can't share my trips with my phone for tracking. Or gaming it. That is pretty low hanging fruit. Dropping a GPS system into the bike would be much harder to doable.

It is a once in a generation opportunity, and looking around me at younger folks, I see once they get more cash they tend to uber now or eventually buy a car. Hard to take your dog on a bike.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt social justice, I have argued in the past that it's unreasonable to put requirements on biking that aren't met by other forms of mobility.

I'm just saying that it's relatively straightforward to put together a comprehensive approach, and it isn't being done.

I didn't make it clear, that putting bike coops and youth bike programs in rec centers would broaden access to biking for everyone. I might go back into the piece and call that out, as well as to incorporate a mention of the past discussion on "the 6th E, equity" in bike and ped planning.

In any case, I don't see a lot of dogs in cars, but that's me.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

also this:


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