For some time now there has been a cloudy perception of modern-day bicyclists, with bicycle ridership often thought to be 20-something millennials working at tech companies, with bicycle infrastructure viewed skeptically as a harbinger of gentrification. While these assumptions may be true in some instances, a closer examination reveals that the lion’s share of commuter bicycle ridership, at least, is instead distributed across demographic and socioeconomic groups. According to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey, respondents who identified as two or more races or “some other race”, along with Hispanic workers, had the largest rates of bicycle commuting at 0.08% and 0.07%, respectively. Educational levels of bicycle commuters are also varied; while “highly-educated workers” had the highest rate of bicycle commuting at 0.09%, “least educated workers” were not far behind at 0.07%. [1][2]

Is the link between bicycle infrastructure and gentrification also less tenuous than it appears on the surface? Or have these assets have become socioeconomic divisions of communities? Before answering whether or not bicycle lanes have become a sort of opening act for gentrification, it’s important to understand what gentrification is and if it applies to communities with bicycle infrastructure. Gentrification can be understood using two explanations of neighborhood change: “production” and “consumption” theories. Production states that “rent gaps,” “value gaps” or “functional gaps” in housing and commercial markets occur when there is a significant difference between the income landlords earn from renting to low-income tenants or small businesses and the higher income they could obtain from renting to those with higher-incomes or converting to a more profitable business. Consumption theory, on the other hand, deals with neighborhood amenities that attract middle- and high-income people into working-class neighborhoods instead of other upscale alternatives. The presence of bicycle infrastructure is just one of the many of these amenities; others include housing quality, vibrant streetscapes, good schools, open space, short commutes, and the availability of entertainment. [3]

Bicycle Infrastructure from Around New Jersey

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Undoubtedly building owners and developers use bike lanes as selling points to attract newcomers. They may tout the access to bicycle infrastructure and bicycle-friendly buildings. Hudson River Park Trust studied properties neighboring bike lanes along the river and procured data stating these properties have seen a 20% increase in property value since installation of the infrastructure. But the correlation with property values should by no means be mistaken for causation. There are still examples of neighborhoods in streets like Bedford Avenue, where the New York City Department of Transportation has focused on bicycle infrastructure implementation and largely come up short, not recording any prompt gentrification or revitalization in communities within this southern part of Brooklyn. [3]

New Jersey is an excellent example of a state that is focusing on making sure all residents, regardless of socioeconomic status, can bicycle safely, wherever they live. As a recent report, “New Jersey Bicycle Benchmarking Report”, found, municipalities throughout the state – urban, suburban, and rural – are encouraging bicycling through a wide range of strategies, such as developing Safe Routes to School programs (Chatham Borough, Montclair), building bicycle lanes (Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken, West Windsor), holding Ciclovias (New Brunswick), and passing Complete Streets policies (118 municipalities to date). Through its Complete Streets education and outreach work, and many local bicycle infrastructure funding opportunities, the New Jersey Department of Transportation is helping to ensure that bicycling in New Jersey knows no boundaries.

Shaun Courtney, a writer for Urbanful, does great justice in summarizing both the utility and equity involved with installing bicycle lanes: “Bike lanes are a benefit for all residents regardless of status: they reduce congestion, create a safer road environment, incentivize healthy behavior and create access to jobs and economic centers.” [4] Ultimately, the many communities that have installed bike lanes and have not seen gentrification reveal a truly contextual implication to gentrification that is dependent upon a variety of social, economic, and physical factors beyond the construction of bicycle infrastructure.

[1] “Do Bike Lanes Gentrify Neighborhoods?” Urbanful

[2] “New: Census Data on Bike Commuting,” The League of American Bicyclists

[3] “Bike Lanes and Gentrification: New York City’s Shades of Green,” Planners Network

[4] “The Chicken and the Egg: Gentrification and Bicycling,” Planetizen