As a dedicated bicycle commuter from 2002 to 2007, the findings of the 2011 ACCS BikeArlington study that the majority of bicycle commuters are male, white, affluent, and middle-aged are no surprise to me. I can confirm that the availability of workplace amenities is of prime importance in determining whether someone commutes to work by bicycle. In my case, it was a deciding factor in accepting the position. My employer provided a fully-equipped commuter shower and an indoor, secure bicycle rack. The office was two blocks from a bicycle lane. There were three regular commuters who used the shower, and 3-6 commuters who used the bicycle rack. Additionally, my employer did not provide free parking to employees, and the closest Metro station was a 25-minute walk away. Riding my bike to work just made the most sense, and my commute often turned out to be the best part of my day.
My bicycle-commute involved riding from Prince Georges County, MD to Alexandria, VA. Thanks to Washington, DC’s urban street grid, I had many route options through the city. I found that the most direct route was not the best bicycling route. I was able to cycle safely and comfortably on side streets even though bicycle lanes and paths did not exist in NE DC at the time (the Metropolitan Branch Trail has since been completed and would have been a welcome part of my commute). After crossing the river to VA, I was able to ride the Mount Vernon trail all the way to my office. My total commute was 14 miles each way.
One cold morning, as I was pedaling uphill, I heard a woman calling after me, “Biker, biker, please wait!” I turned to look, and saw her running down her front stairs in her bathrobe waving at me. I decided to stop and see what the fuss was about. As I walked my bike back towards her, she said, “Miss, I just wanted to tell you, I’ve seen you riding your bike past my house for a long time, every morning whether it’s cold or hot, and I just want to tell you that you have inspired me and my husband to get bikes and ride them!”
Wow. Awesome. That was easy.
The woman lived in NE DC about two blocks from my home. She was a 40-ish, heavy set African American woman; not the typical bicycle commuter. And yet, she and her husband were inspired to go out and purchase bicycles. She told me that she and her husband had already started riding their bikes around the neighborhood and that they were having so much fun, just like kids again.
The ACCS BikeArlington survey analyzes current bicycle commuters but more research is needed to identify who the next bicycle commuters could be and what they need in order to start on their journeys. I am sure there are more people like the woman I met. Who are they? Where do they live? Where do they work? What’s preventing them from riding bicycles to work? And how can we help them? As a bicycle commuter and city planner, these are some of the questions I like to ruminate about.
Juliellen Sarver has been an avid bicyclist for decades. She lived in the DC region for six years, and currently resides in Richmond, VA. Although she works from her house, she still uses her bicycle for errands, meetings, and discovering the city.