Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Indicators on Two Wheels: Measuring Bicycles?

Some time back, I had run across a MySpace page arguing that bicyclists are social indicators.

I had thought this interesting, and began an article about it, but once you got past the first sentence or two, there wasn't much more to be said -- I thought.

For the record, here's the first couple sentences of the MySpace article: "Bicyclists are social indicators. The number of people riding and commuting by bicycle can tell us something about the communities in which we live in." While I suspected that was true, I wasn't quite sure what that "something" was.

After all, in one part of the area I live in, we have an extraordinarily high number of accidents involving bicyclists. Anecdotally, I've been told by someone working in the field that the number of bicycle accidents are proportional to DUI's resulting in suspended licenses, leading to a rise of "bicycling while intoxicated" that can be more deadly than being back behind the wheel, though less of a threat to others. But I don't think that's the "something" that the number-of-bicyclists indicator would tell us.

Then I ran across Richard Layman's blog. He references a Sacramento Bee article called Cycle City? in which Peter Jacobsen "points to a key 'indicator species,' the female cyclist. Their numbers on the road, he argues, are a direct measure of the perceived safety of cycling and its likelihood to catch on with the general population."

Bicyclists as a measure of the popularity of bicycling doesn't seem like such an exciting indicator. But bicyclists as a measure of perceptions of safety and of urban renewal and the development of neighborhoods? That's a lot more interesting.

Richard Layman continues:

And midtown is a logical incubator for cycling. It's where trips tend to be shorter and more easily manageable on two wheels. Midtown is packed with destinations for younger folks, with lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. In my own informal survey of these young cruisers, cycling was cited as a great way to avoid DUIs when you're enjoying midtown's nightlife.

They also mention greater ease of parking. And of course midtown's numerous bike lanes -- with more on the way -- contribute a sense of safety. But I think the key element is the compactness of midtown.

Now we're getting somewhere. (And the DUI's got thrown in too!) But cycling as an indicator of responsible, compact development patterns and smart growth management is intriguing. And cyclists as a measure of how well a community is attracting the creative class is another. And I'm sure there are community health implications in a rise in cyclists as well.

One more point: Layman suggests that it isn't just bicyclists, but female bicyclists, that serve as a good leading indicator.

This is analogous to the point I make that since women conduct upwards of 80% of all retail transactions, commercial districts that are unsafe and dirty don't stand a chance. See "The presence of women as indicators of revitalization success."

Gender equity. Economic vitality. Safety. Health. Growth management. What an opportunity for a simple measurement to tell lots of stories!

What do you think? Do you use measures of cyclists as part of a community indicators set? Is it a good idea?

Update: Be sure to check out this post on further uses of bicycles as a community indicator!


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