The Bike League’s new report, The New Movement: Bike Equity Today (PDF) asks an important question about terms like “invisible riders” and “invisible cyclists”:
Have the terms distracted us from the vital importance of making every person who rides a bike visible?
The report’s authors, Adonia Lugo, Elizabeth Murphy, and Carolyn Szczepanski, acknowledge that “these terms have given us a way to talk about low-income cyclists, immigrant populations, or other groups that bike advocates have found hard to reach.”
But they also make the following compelling point:
“bike advocates who are people of color, women, and youth often hear people who look like us called invisible or scarce even when we are in the room. We are not indicator species to be monitored; we are enthusiastic supporters of bicycling who have a lot of ideas about what bikes can do for our communities. If we stay hidden, so will the new paths we are creating.”
When we began the Invisible Cyclist blog, we argued that a new and vibrant bicycle culture was helping the bicycle advocacy movement finally thrive in North America, but that the movement was overlooking “the invisible cyclists, those for whom cycling is not a choice but a necessity. This population of cyclists,” we wrote, “is largely uncounted, unrecognized, and unrepresented.”
It’s exciting to realize that our original claim may need revising. So-called invisible cyclists are increasingly recognized by and represented in mainstream bike advocacy organizations. We look forward to critical dialogue around the declining relevance of these terms and constructive dialogue around the evolution of new types of framings and terminology.
Whatever our terms, we want to keep drawing attention to at least two important concerns. We wrote about both of these in “Lessons from the Green Lanes? Listen to Communities of Color,” but they bear repeating.
How we count bicyclists
When we measure who bicycles, which we do often in order to justify investments in infrastructure, we need to be more creative so that we also count bicyclists not using infrastructure intended for them or who are riding at unusual hours of the day. Bicyclist intercept surveys, a popular method of both bike advocacy organizations and transportation planners, are often conducted where we tend to see the most bicyclists. Bicycle counts are usually conducted during the morning and evening “rush hours” when white collar workers on 9-5 schedules happen to be riding. Both methods leave an important constituency uncounted.
The New Bicyclist Bias
Related to the problem of how we count bicyclists is the bias in advocacy and planning towards creating new bicyclists (e.g., converting drivers into bicyclists). The focus on recruiting new bicyclists leads to conclusions that certain types of infrastructure in certain locations are needed to overcome the safety concerns of these “Interested but Concerned” individuals (a term drawn from Roger Geller’s “Four Types of Cyclists” typology which is explained in brief here or in its entirety here.) Yet by attending to the needs of the cyclists we’re currently undercounting, many of whom happen to be bicycling out of necessity, these individuals may begin to feel recognized, respected, and safe in their mode of transportation. We need a better understanding of whether such feelings would result in bicycling persistence rather than car ownership aspiration. As we wrote previously
Dan Koeppel–author of the piece in which “invisible riders,” many of whom ride on sidewalks for safety, were first introduced–asked Guillermo Diaz what it would take for him to use the streets. According to Koeppel, Diaz “answered instantly, without a hint of irony: ‘Owning a car.’
So we would agree with the Bike League’s new report that “‘invisible riders’ are only invisible to us if we choose to draw our bike movement boundaries in a way that makes those riders and their experiences irrelevant to producing bike-friendly streets.”
It’s time to explore successors to terms like “invisible riders” and “invisible cyclists,” and to answer vital questions that the Bike League’s report asks, such as:
How do we bridge from diversity in bike users to equitable bike advocacy?