In 1997 when I moved to the DC area I still used my bike from time to time but ended up selling it in 2000. I currently maintain a complicated relationship with street cyclists and what some people call urbanism. In theory, I believe in mixed transportation options. Safety, whether for pedestrians, cyclists, or riders of public transportation, should be a priority in this city. Police do not do enough to mitigate the dangerous behavior of many drivers. However, as a social scientist who studies social and urban policy, I am concerned that funding (minor as it may be) is supporting a gendered form of transit in the District of Columbia. In the United States, women's rates of cycling are dramatically lower than men's (about 25% for women and 75% for men) and the trip chaining in which women tend to engage is much harder by bike. This is a major disparity in the use of a mode of transit. Furthermore, cycling-friendly policies prioritize the able bodied (persons with physical disabilities and the aged are largely locked out). In many developing countries where public transportation and taxis are not safe for women traveling alone, cycling tends to be a good source of mobility. In the United States that tends not to be the case. One thoughtful editorial on BikePortland.org goes further, calling the cycling scene and industry sexist. It should be noted that in a report by Virginia Tech for CaBi, casual users of CaBi are about even in terms of gender; however, men are more likely to have yearly memberships. Presumably, these are the same men showing up in U.S.-wide household cycling use studies. See this site for more good stats about cycling participation.
I am always surprised when people call cycling-friendly policies and infrastructure progressive. It is certainly a shift away from unsustainable, hegemonic auto-centered transportation policies, but progressive? Can a mode of transportation which best serves one gender be called progressive?
I have used Capital Bikeshare for little trips around the monuments with out of town guests but never in my own neighborhood. Yesterday, despite many reservations, in honor of New York City's new CitiBike program, about which I am tired of hearing, I decided to check out a bike in Fairlawn. The Capital Bikeshare station on 25th Street, SE at Minnesota Avenue, SE (called the Pennsylvania Avenue, SE and Minnesota Avenue, SE station) is a short walk from my place. The CaBi location is a good one, near Mario's Pizza House, a local institution. Before renting the bike I chatted with some guys eating at the tables in front of Mario's. I was glad to see that they all seemed to have a positive impression of the program, but a couple mentioned that one needed a credit card to rent the bikes. Those comments may point to the higher percentage of persons in under served communities being unbanked. I did not take the time to explain the BankonDC program through CaBi. In order to expand usage into under served neighborhoods, it might be worth conducting outreach on the program.
I jog and walk in Anacostia Park but had never crossed the South Capitol Street Bridge so I made that my goal. I do not have a helmet so I wanted to stay on paths and small streets. I crossed into Anacostia Park near Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, took the trail south to the bridge and crossed over the river. I was keeping my eyes open for an Anacostia River Trail sign labeled “East Bank Trail” but never located it. From Nationals Stadium I headed toward Eastern Market and took Pennsylvania Avenue southeast across the Anacostia River. Around Barracks Row and bus stops on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE I walked the bike on the sidewalk, as there were many students milling around. After crossing the bridge I followed the trail north along the river. I had seen the new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks but used it for the first time today (pictures are on the photos page). I continued north to Benning Road and then turned around and headed back to Fairlawn to return the bike. The total trip was about 10-11 miles. While picking up dinner at Mario's I chatted with a guy who had asked me about CaBi. He said he was keen on signing up for a year-long membership.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the trails on the east side of the city, check them out. The Anacostia River Trail on the east bank of the river leads north to East Capitol Street where one can cross onto Kingman Island and loop west toward RFK and then on to Capitol Hill, Langston, or along the Anacostia River Trail on the west bank of the river. I believe at some point the trail will connect to the Aquatic Gardens as well, but now one has to wind through the neighborhood after Benning Road in order to get to the gardens. The water lilies are amazing, but go early before it heats up and they close. I have been exercising in Anacostia Park for ten years and on occasion my former softball team played games there. It is a gem. I have always felt safe.
Even this hater can enjoy a nice bike ride. It certainly helped to instill more empathy in me regarding what cyclists experience in this city. But let's be careful about developing a system of mobility--for men—and then trying to squeeze the needs of others into that infrastructure. Rather than being progressive it would be more of the same.
© 2013 East Bank DC.