Biking preferences in lower-income neighborhoods may vary by race

Blacks and Hispanics living in Roxbury, MA, a low-income Boston neighborhood, prefer riding on safe-from-traffic bicycle routes such as cycle tracks—rather than biking with traffic in roadways—and they want more secure places to park their bicycles to prevent theft, according to a new Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study. However, like many such neighborhoods across the country, Roxbury does not have these amenities.

The final version of the study was published online May 25, 2017 in Preventive Medicine Reports.

Lead author Anne Lusk, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School, and her colleagues conducted surveys in August 2014 of residents who live and bike near Malcolm X Boulevard in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood to learn about their biking preferences and biking habits.

Among the key findings:

  • Cycle tracks were perceived as the safest type of bike routes by whites, blacks, and Hispanics.
  • More blacks and Hispanics than whites preferred to park their bikes inside their homes.
  • More blacks and Hispanics than whites want to bicycle with family and friends.

Such bicycling preferences should be considered by urban planners to encourage physical activity and healthier lifestyles in low-income, predominantly minority communities, the authors wrote. A 2011-2012 study on the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. cited by the authors reported that nearly 78% of Hispanics and about 76% of blacks are considered obese compared with about 67% of whites. A previous study by Lusk and colleagues found bicycling to be an effective way to control weight.

“Lower income primarily-minority neighborhoods are less likely than other neighborhoods to get the safest bicycle facilities,” Lusk said. The safest bicycle systems, such as cycle tracks, are built because forceful advocates lobby transportation officials, but this takes volunteer time and knowledge about bicycle design options, she said. “This research was intended to give residents in Roxbury a voice.”

Listen to an interview with Anne Lusk on This Week in Health: How can we make biking safer and easier?

Read a June 6, 2017 Streetsblog USA article: Boston Survey Suggests Approaches to Bikeway Design That Will Appeal More to People of Color

Learn more

Read a May 2, 2017 Harvard Crimson article: After Fatal Crashes, Cantabrigians Debate Bike Lanes

Read a September 2016 Fox News article: Bike lanes are a sound public health investment

Read a WBUR September 2015 article: Cyclists Call For Greater Barriers On Boston Streets