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Monday, January 26, 2015

Cycling is all about numbers and they can tell what we need to know about the future

Cycling is all about numbers and they can tell what we need to know about the future
By:  Michael Lander

Memphis has seen a steady increase in the number of cyclists over the last
decade and this is only expected to grow as more amenities and facilities
are put into place in and around the city.

There is an old saying that numbers don't lie.  Some say that numbers can even speak louder than words.

Because of numbers, much of what we know of the world can be explained and understood.  It is through them, and more specifically, statistics, that we might even be able to get a glimpse into the future.

Cycling, like many other sport or athletic activities can be all about numbers, speed, distances, and averages, etc., and it's future may very well lie in what we do with the statistics that we have in front of us today.

By looking at those who now ride, from men, women, children, and people of different races, economic status, and geographical location, we can get a pretty clear picture as to the trends and what direction and where cycling might be going in.
Much of what we know about this comes from polls, surveys, retail sales and other means of data collection.  This can give businesses, private and public organizations, and local, state, and federal governments an opportunity to make decisions and allocate resources for things like a cycling infrastructure that will improve and enhance the lives of those in a community.

It may come as little surprise to anyone who is into cycling, that men comprise the largest group of those who currently ride.  The most significant growth of cyclists in the U.S., over the past two decades, have been men, especially those between the ages of
25-64 years of age.  The average North American bicycle commuter is also a 39-year-old professional male.
Men make up the largest population of cyclists across the U.S. and many do not
seem to be apprehensive about riding on busy city streets and are more likely to
commute than any other segment in the population.

There may be many reasons why men chose to ride a bike more often than women do, but one of the more prevalent explanations for this may simply come down to the issue of
personal safety with more men seemingly less concerned about this than women who were surveyed about it would appear to be.

As for men,
age does seem to be a factor for those who do ride.  The largest group of cyclists, at 43 percent, are those who are in between the ages of 25 to 44.  This is followed by those who are 45 to 64, at about 33 percent, with 15 percent of those from 18 to 24 who ride and then 10 percent for those who do who are 65 years of age and older. 

This data seems to correlate with times in our lives when most of us are typically more physically active, but perhaps too busy with school, beginning careers, and starting families to be interested in spending as much time on a bike.

For women in the U.S., about 10.2 million rode 109 days or less in 2010, which was a
decrease of 13 percent since 2000.   This drop does not seem to parallel what is happening in other places around the world, such as in many countries throughout Europe, where there are as many women bicyclists as men. 

According to surveys, a majority of women indicated a preference
to riding on bike trails and on less congested city streets out of
concerns for their personal safety.

Studies that have been conducted seem to suggest that more women in the U.S. might be enticed to ride if they have bike trails or if they had the option to ride on streets where there is
less vehicular traffic or where special traffic-calming features are in place to help minimize the risks to cyclists.

Even though riding a bike was once a really big part of childhood in the U.S., it does not appear that it is that way today.  The number of
children who ride bicycles has declined more than 20 percent between 2000 to 2010. 

Some of this decline may be attributed to safety concerns by parents who are not comfortable with allowing their kids to ride alone in their neighborhoods as they once did.  It may also be that children today have more things that they can do both in and out of the home that may compete for any time that they could devote to riding a bike.

When it comes to the issue of race, one of the most positive developments is that
cycling is becoming increasingly more diversified.  While bicycling may be highest among whites and Hispanics, between 2001 to 2009, cycling rates rose fastest among blacks, Hispanics, and those of Asian descent.  In North America, these three groups accounted for an increase of all bike trips, rising from 16 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2009.

The number of children who ride a bike has steadily decreased by at least
20 percent from 2000 to 2010, but this decrease has been offset by an
increase of adult men who have taken up cycling.

While race has become less of factor as far as those who ride, the reasons behind why they do it may be different.  For whites, bicycles would appear to be mostly used for
exercise and recreation whereas other groups may ride for more practical purposes like commuting to and from school or work. 

This also seems to parallel what occurs with various income levels.   Bicycling rates do not seem to vary much when it comes to income level, but the purposes appear do as those with lower income typically ride more for
utilitarian purposes and those with higher income seem to ride more for fitness and leisure.    The same seems to also be true for children from low-income and minority households who are more likely to ride to school than whites or those are from higher income households.

In addition to all of the variables that might influence who rides and how, the location of where someone lives also seems to be a factor as well.  In the U.S.,
western states would have the highest bicycling rates and southern states currently have extremely low levels when compared to all other regions throughout of the country.

Some of the more positive trends in cycling is how it is growing in popularity throughout the most of the U.S.  The number of Americans who ride today is
greater than all of those who ski, golf, and play tennis combined and more adults participate in bicycling than in any other outdoor sport.  

When compared to other age groups, individuals of college age, between 18 to 24,
make up one of the smaller groups who are inclined to ride a bike.
They also take more bike trips than trips for all types of motorized outdoor sports put together.  Between 2006 to 2011, only 12 sports had a positive move toward increased participation and bicycling was one of them.

On the other side of the coin, there are some negative aspects of cycling that currently deter some people from riding.  The
costs of purchasing a bike was given as a major obstacle by some who have been surveyed as was a lack of a bike-specific infrastructure and pro-bicycle programs with supportive land use planning and restrictions on automobile use.
Even though some southern cities have been slow to warm up to the idea of providing cycling-related amenities, Memphis has been one of the leaders in coming around and changing all this.

In 1966, Joyce Carol Oates had a short story published entitled, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"  It is a story that chronicles the odyssey of a young girl who is lured away from her home to an uncertain future.  Even though this fictional tale really has nothing to do with cycling itself, in some ways it's title arguably could.

The question of where you are going and where you have been, as it relates to cycling, is one that cities like Memphis have looked at and answered themselves. 

When it comes to cycling, over the last decade, it is obvious, even to the most casual observer, where Memphis has come from, where it is now, and where it is going in the future
Statistics indicate that cycling is becoming increasingly diversified and, not unlike
any other large metropolitan city in the country, cyclists of different ages, races,
and varying economic backgrounds, etc., can be found in many areas throughout
the City of Memphis.

In less than ten years, the Memphis Metropolitan area has seen a cycling infrastructure that has gone from being non-existent to one that is growing by the day and slowly emerging as a nationally recognized destination for cycling enthusiasts.

With these changes, the number of cyclists has exploded and will likely continue to move in that direction as more is done to draw people out of their homes and on to the burgeoning number of bike lanes, trails, and cyclist-friendly roads.

In the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?", George Clooney's character becomes angered when he's told that it'd take two weeks before the owner of a small country store would be able to order and receive the hair gel that Clooney's character is asking for.  In response to not being able to get what he wants for another two weeks, he says, "Well ain't this place a geographical oddity!  Two weeks from everywhere!"

While Memphis may not exactly be two weeks from everywhere, one thing that it is quickly becoming is a place known for its cycling.  It is conveniently located in the middle of the country and it is quickly becoming a place that is not only beginning to accept and embrace cycling, but it's where people will eventually want to come to ride from all around the nation.

Time will tell how far Memphis will come with all of this, but at this point, it seems pretty clear in which direction that it is heading in. 

Ultimately, in the end, numbers don't lie and the steady growth in the number of cyclists will speak for itself.   If we will but wait, listen, and act, we should see and hear what should be good news to anyone and everyone who loves cycling.