A soggy day makes me wonder about bicycling and class; or, fun with data

A couple of weeks ago we had that typhoon, remember. And there were almost as many cyclists about as there were clogged storm drains, which was fun to see. Here’s a pond that developed at 15th and Lawrence:

But as I rode around in that downpour, doing some errands, a thought crossed my mind that surprised me. At first, I didn’t think I would confess it here. But why shouldn’t I?

I’ll back up a minute to mention that I enjoy doing errands by bike, even in the rain. And now that we have the Xtracycle, carrying stuff home is easy.

I brought this Vitamix blender home from Hartwick’s the other day. I picked up a 40-pound bag of dog food another day.

And the day of the typhoon, I went to Hummingbird Wholesale — which is like Costco for hippies — to pick up some big bags of flour and rice and beans and a 2.5-gallon jug of soy sauce, because my children drink it like water.

But riding home in jeans with a bunch of bulk food on my bike in a hammering downpour, I thought: “Wow, I wonder if these people driving past in their dry, warm cars think I’m too poor to own a car.”

And I had a brief moment of self-consciousness about that. Which is weird, because this doesn’t normally happen to me. I usually don’t think about bikes that way. And I don’t care much what anyone thinks of my income. And if I was too poor to own a car, so what?

But I am a product of American society, so I suppose these stigmas soak in over the years — and I suppose they can be hard to shake.

Recently, I came across a chart that showed the portion of “bicycle trips” made in the United States by four different income quartiles. The trips were pretty evenly distributed, with the poorest quartile accounting for slightly more trips.

But the speculation among those who did the study is that among poorer people, those “bike trips” tend to be transportation. Among the wealthier, “bike trips” tend to be for recreation.

You know, golf …

… tennis…

Going to the D.A.C.

But I got wondering specifically about Eugene. I couldn’t find any data about “bicycle trips” — or bicycle errands. But the United States Census Bureau kindly offers us information by city about how people commute to work.

Data from the U.S. government would seem to be authoritative. Although, looking at this table in front of me right now, I see that the Census Bureau reports that 16 people in Eugene commuted to work by ferry boat.

All of them men.

So we will bear that in mind.

Now, you may have heard that Eugene has a pretty high bicycle-commuting rate, compared to the rest of the United States, anyway — somewhere around 8 or 10 percent depending on the data you look at.

Here are the Census Bureau estimates over the three years (2008-10):

Not reflected here is the 1 percent “other” — which we will venture is not, in fact, ferry boats, but rather skateboards.

But let’s get back to the money question. Here’s the likelihood that you ride a bike to work in Eugene depending on your income. For instance, of all the people earning $15,000 to $24,999 per year, 14 percent commuted by bike:

You know, once I start making graphs, it’s hard to stop me.

So as long as we are mucking around on the Census Bureau website, here’s the percentage of people in Eugene in various age groups who use a bicycle as their primary means of getting to work:

And then we can look at bicycle commuters in Eugene by gender:

We can see what this means, can’t we? It means either rich people, old people and women are not getting with program — or it means, more likely, that the demographic bulge of college dudes riding fixies to campus and their jobs at Dutch Bros. is skewing the data.


*All data is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey “three-year estimate,” covering the years 2008-10 for the city of Eugene.

14 thoughts on “A soggy day makes me wonder about bicycling and class; or, fun with data

  1. Love this data. Love data in general. Now to find out how Huntington, WV stacks up to Eugene. There’s no contest, but I must know. Thank you so much.

  2. a funny side note. i worked for UPS this fall/winter, delivering parcels. during the orientation, it was mentioned that some home owner associations and gated communities petitioned against UPS bicycle delivery because they associated bikes with trailers to homeless people. it seemed, taking the extra second to take note of the easily recognized brown uniform was too much of an effort, when compared to getting all of the neighbors together to ban this option for delivery.
    this is silly in m’opinion, even though i know this perception is out there.
    as a person who uses his bicycle, and trailers to make a living, i feel like i deal with this subtle judgement, daily.

    1. Seriously? That’s disheartening — the home-owner association thing.

      A point of this post — which I of course didn’t actually state because I never state points, I just beat around the bush — is that what really needs to happen is for these stigmas to go away. It’ll take time. But it seems to me a nice mainstream respectable organization like UPS could do a lot to help change these perceptions.

      I am glad they are starting to use bikes in some situations. It’s a good step. We just need to keep on them. And the people who object to bikes with trailers in their cul de sacs need to see this all becoming more mainstream. It’s happening, I think. Again, it’ll take time.

      There was a time when I didn’t want bike commuting/etc to be mainstream. I liked being sort of unusual. But I think it’s better for all of us if it does go mainstream.

      I actually want to hear more about your experience with UPS, Kori. Can I come ride around with you someday?

    2. I had the opposite (contra-positive?) experience of the home owner association people – I saw a bunch of bikes and trailers gathered in front of a church near my house ant thought there was some kind of cool bike thing going on…. only to discover that it was more of a homeless thing.

  3. It’s only fair; I perceive those who most likely harbor those unfounded perceptions toward me for choosing the bike, as most likely being unhealthy, dissatisfied with their sex life, and enrolled in a spin class. Serves me right.

  4. Glad I’m doing my part to fight against type, as a 24-44 female, middle-class bicycle commuter. I am the 1%! (Or something).

  5. I liked bicycling to work as a neighborhood pharmacist, it felt good to flout stereotypes/statistical trends (also 24-44 female). Recent job change combined with health issues has me off my game though. The river might be convenient, what is the ferry schedule? ;)

  6. I think your ride might be less soggy if you had fenders. What are you, crazy?

    Also, what’s with the extra top tube?

    (Good post, wish I hadn’t missed the group ride. We weren’t feeling the rain.)

  7. “Wow, I wonder if these people driving past in their dry, warm cars think I’m too poor to own a car.”

    That’s funny. When I am out riding, I look at the cars whooshing past and wonder whether they are too fat-assed and lazy to ride a bike.

  8. I have thought of this stigma, which I am sure exits even here, but when I have spent my commute time not in a line of traffic on west 18th and I arrive at school and work energized and not groggy I don’t care if people think I am poor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s