The Invisible Constituency
It started with a simple question,
Who is our constituency?
Why did I stumble with my answer? And at one of the worst possible moments — when I’m one-on-one with my local City Councilman meeting over coffee to discuss bike safety.
I mumbled some sort of reply — I know there’s potential to attract more than just the Saturday morning cycling athletes, which is mostly what you see here in Corona del Mar — but I was a little flat-footed with my answer. There’s got to be an untapped market out there; the people who aren’t riding now, but might if conditions were right.
Like when someone mentions, “Who was that actress?” and you know you’ll remember if you just give it some time, so too I kept trying to retrieve a better answer to the constituency question.
That’s how this concept I’m rebranding as the Invisible Constituency has been working its way through the far reaches of my mind. My most recent guest on cdmCyclist, Santa Barbara’s Bike Coalition Executive Director Ed France mentioned the four types of cyclists — it helped to jog my memory. Then the fog lifted late last night as I was reading Alliance for Biking and Walking President Jeff Miller’s article “Push for More”, in the latest edition of Momentum magazine.
Now I was just a single Google search from a Portland DOT study which categorized four type of transportation cyclists:
- The “Strong and Fearless” who will ride in any conditions; think NYC bike messengers of 2 decades ago. Today they’re known as Vehicular cyclists and add up to less than 1%. This is who your City Councilmembers see and likely think of as the bicycling constituency.
- “Enthused and Confident” riders, like me, who take what we can get in terms of infrastructure, but prefer quiet routes like the Back Bay loop. In Portland, this is a whopping 7%, locally it wouldn’t add up to half this number.
- The “No Way, No How” crowd who isn’t getting on a bike either from fear, a bad attitude or a physical limitation, 33%.
- That leaves a whopping 60% who would ride if conditions were safe. This “Interested but Concerned” crowd is the Invisible Constituency — the answer I wish I had on the tip of my tongue that day last year.
Last week Laguna Beach approved a Complete Streets initiative; earlier this year Newport Beach retained Alta Planning to design a Bicycle Master Plan and over a year ago Huntington Beach hired San Diego’s KTU+A to craft their Master Plan. We beach cities are all just taking the first of many steps towards improving bicycle safety.
For cities have been at this for a decade or more, what are they doing to lure this group onto bikes? They’re building protected bike paths to keep cars and cyclists separated on the roadways. It’s something we should consider as we work to find safer options on routes like Coast Hwy which all 3 cities share.
Building the right infrastructure to lure this Invisible Constituency out onto the roadways will cause a snowball effect. As they venture out they’ll like whatever separated treatments we can start with then they’ll want more and our elected officials will see moms and dads and kids on bikes and their concept of constituency will expand beyond the minuscule mode share we enjoy today.