When Can You Ride Your Bike Up a Ladder?


When it’s a ladder of opportunity.

President Obama has talked a lot about ladders of opportunity, especially in the last year. Growing the middle class and easing access to economic security across racial and gender lines is a major aspect of his platform.

Tuesday morning, speaking at the 2014 National Bike Summit in Washington D.C., Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx cited data from the League of American Bicyclist’s report  of last year that nearly a third of bike trips are made by people earning less than $30,000 annually. The average family making $50,000 or less per year spends 28% of its budget on housing…and a staggering 30% on transportation.

For many Americans, bicycles represent a crucial key to opportunity. Lower income workers are disproportionately likely to work off-peak shifts, times when access to public transportation is often limited or non-existent. For these individuals, cycling doesn’t represent a weekend hobby, complete with kit and cleats. It’s part of their livelihood.

As Sec. Foxx said on Tuesday, “This isn’t just an issue of recreation; it’s an issue of equality, bringing people together, expanding the middle class and helping people who are trying to get into the middle class. It’s an issue of making sure, when someone’s only or best option to get to work is a bike, that they have an option to ride it. When the President talks about ladders of opportunity, that’s what he’s talking about. Sometimes that ladder can be a bike path to a new job or a new school.”

Sec. Foxx urged the League, Summit attendees, and other bicycle advocates to get behind President Obama’s $302 billion transportation proposal, which was announced last week in St. Paul at the newly remodeled Union Depot. The proposal follows on the heels of a bill introduced by Rep. Albio Sires’ (NJ-D) in January. The New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act of 2014 would set aside $11 million in loan funding from the existing $1 billion Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program (already funded) for cycling and pedestrian related infrastructure improvements. The bill further requires that 25% of the funds be spent in “low income” communities.

I live near University, Frogtown, and downtown St. Paul. Even during this particularly and incredibly brutal Minnesota winter, I see people on bikes on a regular basis. Some of them are on fat bikes, or bikes with studded tires, fully kitted out with panniers and Vibram booties. But a lot of them are on beat-up old bikes. Sometimes they’re on the sidewalk. And the most specialized gear they’ve got might, might, be a pair of ski goggles.

Walker Angell recently wrote a fine post here on streets.mn about why bicycle commuting might be hitting a hard ceiling in the Twin Cities Metro. It’s a great post. I agree with 99.9% of it. But it’s important to remember there are folks out there for whom bike commuting isn’t a stylish trend or environmentally sound option that will help millennials Save the World. It’s the only mode of transportation they’ve got to get to work, and it can be a long climb.


Rebecca Airmet

About Rebecca Airmet

Rebecca is a Twin Cities transplant from the mountain west. She is an editor, writer, and bicycle advocate with Saint Paul Women on Bikes. She enjoys riding fast and far with her husband and nice and easy with her kids.