CRTP: All Ages and Abilities

Colin Fiske, Executive Director

One of the most common responses I get when I talk about biking as a mode of transportation is that biking isn’t feasible for everybody, particularly for older people and parents of young kids. As a person without disabilities, who doesn’t have young children and isn’t yet eligible for an AARP card, it’s not for me to say what folks in other situations can and can’t do. But I do think it’s critical to acknowledge that we don’t make our transportation decisions in a vacuum, and other communities and cultures around the world offer examples of what is possible under different conditions. 

In the U.S., less than 1 percent of trips made by people over 70 are by bike, and less than 2 percent of trips by kids. In contrast, however, 12 percent of trips made by Japanese people over 70 and 15 percent of Japanese kids’ trips are by bike. And in the Netherlands, those figures are 23 percent and 41 percent, respectively. Put another way, nearly a quarter of trips taken by Dutch people older than 70 are bike trips, and nearly half of trips by Dutch kids.

Another interesting indicator is the proportion of bicyclists who are women. Studies show that women ride bikes more when the infrastructure is safer. In the U.S., with our relative lack of safe bikeways, only 30 percent of bicyclists are women. In Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan, however, women make up over half of the bicycling public.

I think these numbers offer some important insights. While it may seem natural to assume that certain types of people ride bikes less for physical or even biological reasons, that’s usually not the case. Most people—although certainly not all—have the ability to ride a bike, or one of the various versions of adaptive bikes and trikes now available. But infrastructure and culture often lead them to make other choices. Choices which, under the circumstances, may be perfectly reasonable and understandable.

My own personal experience offers an example of this. I grew up in neighborhoods, both urban and suburban, that completely lacked safe biking infrastructure, and as a result I never learned to ride a bike as a kid. Then, when I was 25, I found myself in a new neighborhood, within biking distance from my work, with a protected bike path most of the way. So I learned to ride, and now I’m a bicycling advocate! Of course, not everyone would have the same experience I did under the same circumstances, but the story clearly illustrates the critical importance of infrastructure and land use planning for widespread adoption of bicycling.

Responsible transportation supporters today talk about planning bike networks for “all ages and abilities.” Data from around the world show that it’s possible for this to be more than a slogan; it can be a reality in our own communities. When it is safe, comfortable, convenient and fun to get around by bike, many more people — people of all ages and abilities — will choose to do it.