Does Burque Bike Lane Placement Reflect/Create Gentrification?

The confluence of two issues as controversial as bike lanes and gentrification is bound to heighten the emotional and largely ignores the merely analytical. On top of that, questions such as to whether bike lane placement is based on class/race and if bike lane placement leads to negative impacts of gentrification are damn hard questions to scientifically answer.

Still there have been attempts to answer such questions, as noted in a review posted at Streetsblog Chicago six weeks ago, after publication of a new study researching such questions in the Windy City and Portland, Oregon. That report by a team of Canadian researchers led by Elizabeth Flanagan at McGill University in Montreal is titled “Riding tandem: Does cycling infrastructure investment mirror gentrification and privilege in Portland, OR and Chicago, IL?”

The titular question narrows focus to the decision by municipalities on where to spend bike lane dollars. The finding by Flanagan, et. al., is:

In both cities, we identify a bias towards increased cycling infrastructure investment in areas of privilege, whether due to an increase in characteristics associated with gentrification or pre-existing conditions. This paper provides evidence that marginalized communities are unlikely to attract as much cycling infrastructure investment without the presence of privileged populations, even when considering population density and distance to downtown, two motivators of urban cycling.
The study rightly points out the many research difficulties in making such determinations, including just what constitutes gentrification and determining municipal investment patterns. Here’s an somewhat humorous example:
For instance, a recent study considers municipal structural reinvestment in previously disinvested areas by exploring Google Street View for visible cues of neighborhood change.
Still, there are useful resources, and one is a widely accepted “Gentrification Index” created via U.S. Census data. The good folks at Governing.com employ the same index in creating city census tract-by-tract data, including that for Albuquerque. In the upcoming visual, gentrification is defined as:
These lower-income Census tracts experienced significant growth in both home values and educational attainment. To be eligible to gentrify, a tract’s median household income and median home value needed to fall within the bottom 40th percentile of all tracts within a metro area at the beginning of the decade. Tracts considered to have gentrified recorded increases in the top third percentile for both inflation-adjusted median home values and percentage of adults with bachelors’ degrees.
Hence, to gentrify a neighborhood has to first be poor relative to Burque as a whole and have relatively low percentages of college degree holders.  Plugging the Census data together we get:
abqgent
Readers are encouraged to visit the site and play with the roll-over/click interactive feature to get more specifics. Here we’re just looking for the deeper blue, and we find it, roughly, along both Interstates and concentrated somewhat downtown. Just as important to keep in mind is that many tracts above can’t possibly become dark blue because they don’t fit the relative low income/low degree attainment required for gentrification designation.
gentpercent
What does the above have to do with bike lanes, if anything? Better Burque not being equipped to overlay the ABQ bike map atop the above, we’ll just put them top/bottom here:
abqmap2014
Blue above are bike lanes, as of 2014. What do we see? To be honest, not a hell of a lot. Simply eye-balling it, you certainly wouldn’t say bike lane placement has caused gentrification in ABQ. You might argue that a preponderance of bike lanes exist here in more affluent areas and that gentrified areas along I-25, in particular, are currently underserved with bike lanes. To pick a singular observation point, one might look at Edith Blvd as an example of a road going through gentrified neighborhoods that should have bike lanes.
More than anything, the study referenced and images above really just lead to questions, some ethical/moral/political and others with a chicken/egg bent. Here are just a few:
  • Better Burque used the word “should” with regard to Edith. “Should” gentrified areas get more bike lanes? Is gentrification to be rewarded and does the relatively uniform economic pattern in Burque (high percentage poor relative to other cities; very few rich people) make gentrification mean something different here than elsewhere, namely Chicago and Portland, Oregon?
  • The chicken/egg question: Are bike lanes put in areas as a result of economics or as means to influence economics?
  • How important is simple traffic logistics in determining bike lane placement? For instance, ABQ has the two significant bike infrastructure barriers of I-25 and I-40. Aren’t those two barriers far more important than any neighborhood economic status?
  • And finally, for now, aren’t there so few regular bike riders here that bike lane placement is more public do-goodism than real public policy?

I’ll close with a personal anecdote that adds another element here, villages/unincorporated areas. I live in the far South Valley, quite a bit “below” the areas covered on the maps above. My main way to get to the rest of ABQ is Isleta Blvd. When I first moved here in 2000, Isleta had no bike lane, was far from a “complete street” and was quite bike-unfriendly. I certainly never considered riding on it and had pretty much consigned myself to a non-bike commuting existence down here. Then the bike lane came.

Has that bike lane changed my neighborhood? Has it in any way gentrified the corner of Rio Bravo and Isleta? Uh…no. I don’t think any statistical analysis of race/ethnicity/class/tax base would find that to be the case. But it absolutely changed my life down here. And while that’s a sample size of one, it’s tempting to generalize that in ABQ-2016, with so few riders, bike lane placement has pretty much nothing to do with any community-wide status or promise, just everything to do with an extremely small set of outliers.

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