Do bike lanes cause gentrification?



While listening to a Tuesdays at APA podcast entitled “Just Green Enough: Contesting Environmental Gentrification”  on New Years Eve, I was dismayed to hear the presenter say that bike lanes are now seen by many lower-income Americans as the ultimate symbol of gentrification. Apparently they are being described as “gentrification lanes” by some. Really? Needless to say, as an avid bicycle commuter I was surprised and taken aback by this assertion, though I must admit where I bike commute does not have a diverse socio-economic strata from which to judge such a transformation.

The larger question is whether the assertion is really true, whether the bike culture is being made out to be the fall guy, or is this just another urban legend being repeated. Given that bicycles can often be the only affordable, viable, and reliable form of transportation for many less fortunate citizens, at first glance it would seem the speaker’s conjecture is incorrect. But then I looked the topic up on the internet and found it to be a very active ongoing concern.

So, as an avid commuting cyclist, am I only looking at this debate through rose-colored glasses? Does the addition of bike lanes tend to cause a corresponding acceleration in gentrification of adjacent poorer neighborhoods into newly adopted hipster havens?

My guess is that there are places where this has happened and others where it has not (how’s that for fence-sitting). I am certain that other factors come into play beyond the bike lanes – as they say in the real estate industry, “it is all about location, location, location.” At the same time, this may be a part of a much larger social and economic justice issue that cannot be taken lightly. Here are weblinks to several thought-provoking articles on the topic:

Needless to say, many cyclists including myself, would be appalled for bicycling to be the cause of class displacement. As a result, it is imperative that we urban planners take this concern into serious consideration while reviewing development or redevelopment projects. Similarly, we should insist that such projects always include a fair proportion of affordable housing to assure that any displacement that does occur is limited.

Otherwise, the neighborhood where bike lanes are installed may indeed become less diverse as property values rise and those who cannot afford the newfound prosperity are forced to relocate elsewhere. I would dare say this loss of diversity would also ultimately weaken neighborhood rejuvenation and certainly would lead to a discernible loss of cultural vibrancy. Finding the proper balance is the key. As planners, we do that all the time, so this shouldn’t be rocket science. That being said, it is not necessarily easy to counterbalance growth and development inertia either.

For cyclists and bike commuters, pent-up anger is percolating beneath the surface in many less advantaged communities towards us. We cannot dismiss this factor, as it is not just a public relations problem, but part of a much larger socio-economic one. Perhaps then, we need to seriously rethink the paradigms of our bicycling culture to make sure it is more inclusive, more diverse, and more open to differing opinions. The last thing we want to become is the 21st century version of the interstate highway system – often known more for its displacements than its achievements.  That, my friends, would be a sad legacy indeed.

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12 Responses to Do bike lanes cause gentrification?

  1. trailkrup says:

    I don’t think gentrification due to bike lanes is happening in Detroit where they have installed 80 miles of lanes in the last year. It is not an issue because programs and events are happening across the City which involve people of all economic levels in the use of a bicycle. The Slow Roll event is extremely diverse involving 1,600 or more on a typical Monday night, with all sorts of riders and all sorts of bikes. The Hub is another example of a program which seeks to provide bicycles to all by teaching repair and getting used bikes out on the road to whoever needs them.


  2. Rick–
    I think there’s two sides to this coin, which I have also commented on elsewhere. Our not too long ago survey of clients of local social service agencies looking at transportation barriers may illustrate another view.

    Responding clients of social service agencies indicated a combined 11.4 percent walked and biked (2.1) to their appointment that day, and another 18.7 percent combined said they’d consider walking and biking (6.6) to their appointment if they didn’t use a car, and 27.4 percent said that walk (50) and bike (50) was the mode they used to get around most often.

    Incomes of 82.6 percent of respondents annually were under 20K, and 47.5% were under 10K. Hardly the landed gentry class–but also not a typical daily bike commuter, or is our mental/diversity image wrong about the users?.

    I agree there may be places where there’s an appearance of gentrification out there, and property values to increase where there are complete streets facilities and transit access–but there also may be disparity in where facilities are constructed and in “need” vs. “user type.” Our environmental justice analysis suggests that is the case in the existing “as built” system–but much less so in the “as proposed” system.

    I’d add, my own two cents as follows:
    Is it gentrification– or is it an environmental justice issue and/or an issue of equity in distribution of the facilities?

    Or put another way–if you are poor– and you have no other way to get to your food bank or medical appointments–or if you choose to leave your car at home– should you be at a higher risk of getting hurt or killed on your trip than other people because there are not adequate complete streets facilities in place to allow you to safely access your social services provider?

    So equity of accessibility, distribution of facilities and mobility options need to be looked at in terms of diversity and needs of all segments of the community.

    Oh and by the way, if you are a non-profit or social service entity submitting a development or redevelopment proposal–maybe we should make certain we have criteria that they have transit access –as well as bike/peds/complete streets facilities in place (or planned) as part of the review/approval process. Think about it like, IF you want to build your social service center out in a greenfield and far from the appropriate infrastructure needed by your clients, maybe their should be a few questions asked about mobility/access/diversity & appropriate use before the permits are issued. Our inventory suggests there are NOT many in that category, since by and large they are trying to best site their facilities to meet needs of their clients, but there are some out there (in some places) that are not currently served by bike/peds facilities or transit.

    What public body (or private social service agency board) approved that?
    Just my two cents/Paul Hamilton


  3. Juris says:

    Here is AN Australian experience.
    I take my bike on a train to a fringe suburb of Brisbane. It is recognised as being a somewhat socio-economically disadvantaged area. I happen to ride through this part to my final destination. There are narrow marked bike lanes on the edge of a multi lane highway. There are a lot of cars. I have to say that in no other parts of Brisbane where I have ridden have I received so many abusive comments and cyclist aggressive behaviours as in this part of town. The area is almost flat with gentle grades here and there – by terrain ideal bike country. Yet, very few people ride. There is probably some interesting sociological explanation.


  4. Roxanne LeBlanc says:

    As a cyclist in Calgary, Alberta my view/opinion is that cycling is primarily a middle/upper income form of commuting or recreation/physical activity, except for those few brave or desperate guys who work in industrial or other areas which are not well served by public transit (and who have no access to cars). Our safe cycling infrastructure ( i.e. separated bike lanes) is almost non-existent and bike paths or bike roads are defniitely more predominant in higher SES areas & downtown. I also doubt that individuals working at low paying jobs have access to shower facilities, decent bikes, flexible workschedules or the energy at the beginning or end of the day to cycle toand from work.


  5. I have a bicycle. I’m happy to use bike lanes where they exist. The “pent-up anger” in me has to do with the fact that I’m continuing to be excluded from employment by prejudiced employers; that due to very low income I am overcrowded and don’t even have a place to keep my bike in my own too-small home (it’s in the shed of better-off friends where it’s also easier to ride a bike safely). My anger at fellow bicyclists who commit moving violations as if rules of the road don’t exist, and who don’t think twice about physically attacking me on the sidewalk when I’m a pedestrian, and at the local police who refuse to enforce the laws against these bicyclists, isn’t pent up at all. As a should-be planner, I want all dwelling units to have off-street parking. I also want better mass transit.


  6. Tom Godefrooij says:

    The debate about gentrification seems paradoxal to me. Gentrification is the result of improved quality of life in a neighborhood, making the neighborhood more attractive to live in, isn’t it? If one would want to avoid a process of gentrification then the implication could be to not improve quality of life in such neighborhoods. Not improving cycling conditions for the sake of preventing gentrification seems a bit pervers to me. I think that there should be less pervers options to counter unwanted gentrification…


  7. Eric Snyder says:

    Attractive facilities lead to higher land values. Higher land values lead to higher prices. That’s the market. The point made above – “would you have no amenities” is wellmade. The fact is though, that in a perfect world, where all roads were complete, proximity to the center/transit/services adds value. The only real countervailing action that can be taken to offset the working market is government subsidy or regulation requiring the set aside of below market homes. I’d also point out that those who are forced out also have the right to vote…


  8. Jonathan Childers says:

    Reblogged this on healthycology.


  9. shireende says:

    I would contend (and believe very strongly) that bicycle lanes are NOT a “cause” of gentrification. I think they are a symptomatic externality of “revitalization”. Revitalization/gentrification is geared to attract a demographic that likes shorter commutes to work – and chooses to either walk or bike to work. Bike lanes are a reflection of neighborhoods undergoing socioeconomic change, in order to attract and serve a new demographic (middle to upper middle income folks who like shorter commutes to work, basic amenities, and entertainment).

    After having conducted an extensive analysis of gentrification in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, my findings do not suggest a causal relationship between bike lanes and $400,000 condos. It would be negligent of me to say that I have not noticed a correlation between an affluent class moving into the low-income neighborhood and an increase in bicycling in the neighborhood. It would also be negligent of me to say that the bicyclists tend to be the same people living in the newly rehabbed expensive condos. However, in no way, shape, or form, do I believe that bicycle lanes can be considered to be a cause for gentrification. At best, it is a reflection of an onset of gentrification.


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