Bicycles Are Cheap

One of the stranger political phenomena of the past 10 years has been the extent to which the non-automobile transportation in many cities has been coded a “white” area of concern. When someone writes a piece about the growing market for automobiles in China, nobody thinks that’s an article about how China’s getting poorer. As Ben Adler’s piece on the growth of urban cycling notes, cars are expensive and non-ownership of an expansive asset is something that you primarily see in minority communities:

The popularity of biking among creative-class professionals has given rise to the impression among some that bicycling—which is cheaper than driving or even mass transit—is the preoccupation of a narrow set of city residents. “These bike lanes are elitist, and they only serve a few people,” said a neighborhood representative at a public meeting last year to discuss bike lanes that would connect South West and South East Washington, DC. It’s certainly true that many of the bikers pedaling around the hipper city precincts appear to be of the bourgeois-bohemian persuasion. But take a look across the country and bicyclists are a diverse lot, including immigrants who lack the documentation to get a driver’s license and people who are too poor to own a car. These are disproportionately minorities. According to a 2006 report by the Brookings Institution and the University of California, Berkeley, 19 percent of blacks live in households without a car, compared with 13.7 percent of Hispanics and 4.6 percent of whites.

At any rate, there are obviously limits to how much mode share bicycling is ever going to have. But insofar as American cities adopt sensible policies vis-a-vis dense development and regulatory parking minimums, they’ll find that the bike + carshare combination meets their needs at low cost.