02/28/11

Bike Walk Ambassadors: Bicycling and Walking in the African American CommunityBike Walk Ambassadors: Bicycling and Walking in the African American Community

On February 1st, the Bike Walk Ambassadors gathered a group of leaders in the African American community at UROC in North Minneapolis to view and provide feedback for two new tools in bike/walk advocacy: a short film of neighborhood residents talking about how bicycling and walking fit into their lives and a powerpoint presentation calling on residents to imagine a community with more options along these lines.  

“The African American community is by far the largest community of color in Minneapolis – about 19 percent of the population,” said Bike Walk Ambassador David Peterson, “but sometimes not enough attention is paid to providing great programs in this community.  African Americans are more transit-dependent than others in the city, meaning that people are already walking a lot to use buses. A lot of people bike, too. We want to focus on the positives of biking and walking. This project is about inspiring people to just try it out – take a few short trips to regular destinations, such as the corner store or a family member’s house.”

“Minneapolis is widely considered a great place to bike and walk,” he said. “The Bike Walk Ambassador Program aims to encourage people to bike more, walk more, and drive less for their trips.  We know that about 40% of all the trips people take in the Twin Cities are less than two miles long; 28% are less than a mile. And yet we take almost 75% of those shortest trips alone in private automobiles.  We can make huge gains if we just begin to impact even a small number of those very short trips. Even in a place like North Minneapolis, where people talk about not having a lot of destinations, people are taking these short trips all the time,” he said.

People in the video talk about getting to the farmer’s market and local businesses on foot or by bicycle, and about the pleasure of seeing neighbors along the way. The powerpoint combines maps, data, and plenty of photographs to show how much is accessible on foot or on bike, especially with connections to transit. These modes—walking, bicycling, and bus/rail—are important in neighborhoods, such as North Minneapolis, in which 29% of households don’t own a car. Enlarging the sense of where you can go without a car is empowering. And, as the powerpoint indicates, healthy, too. Three hours of bicycling per week—-to and from work or other errands—-reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%.  Just ten minutes of walking or biking a day has been shown to reduce depression and improve mood.

The powerpoint doesn’t shy away from some of the barriers to more bicycling and walking. Feeling unsafe in the neighborhood is a big concern of North Minneapolis residents, with 34% citing this in a Hennepin County SHAPE survey (Survey of the Health of All the Population and the Environment). Another large percentage (32% of respondents) answered, “I don’t have time” to be more physically active, and 18% indicated that their health doesn’t permit it.

During the discussion that followed the presentation, community leaders asked for more information about ways to deal with safety issues. Ideas included adding more street lights, organizing group bicycle rides, and training around safety. One person joked that, taking the long view, it’s safer to be on your bike than sitting behind your desk. Another commented that walking eases the pain of “Mr Arthur”—-arthritis. Several participants indicated that the cost of even the least expensive bicycle may be too high for a lot of individuals, and that more emphasis might be placed on walking, which is essentially free.

The evening’s discussion yielded several ideas for ways to extend and deepen the conversation, including ways to use the video and powerpoint with a range of audiences. The challenge for bike/walk advocates is not only to move people to try these modes, but also to address the concerns that rise with the enthusiasm for getting around in new ways. The Ambassador Program hopes to begin using the video and presentation in public forums starting this spring.