In Nickel and Dimed, her book on going undercover in low-wage America, Barbara Ehrenreich describes how not owning a car is one of the many factors making it difficult for low-paid workers to find better jobs. «Some of my co-workers, in Minneapolis as well as Key West, rode bikes to work, and this clearly limited their geographical range», she adds.
I was reminded of Ehrenreich’s book when I read a blog post by Michael Andersen. He argues that Denmark’s good quality bicycle infrastructure has contributed to the country’s egalitarian nature by making it easier to escape poverty. Danes with low incomes make a high share of their trips by bicycle. Rich Danes cycle too, but make far more trips by car.
In the comments to the blog post there’s a suggestion that in Amsterdam, it’s mainly the wealthy who ride bicycles. I couldn’t find recent data for Amsterdam, but geographical patterns may play a role. In the central area, where density is high and where the high-income districts Zuid and Centrum are located, people cycle more. In the peripheral districts, where distances to shops and other facilities tend to be longer, fewer trips are made by bicycle. Some of the poorest neighbourhoods are located there.
Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has data for the entire country, as well as for the cities with the highest addresses per surface area ratio. These include Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, Utrecht and a number of smaller cities. The main conclusions:
- Like in Denmark, cycling infrastructure benefits all kinds of people, but low-income people even more so;
- In high-density cities, not just the lowest income groups, but also the richest are more likely to take advantage of cycling infrastructure.
Incidentally, this doesn’t mean that cyclists get the space they should get. In a recent opinion article in NRC Handelsblad, writer Fred Feddes says that bicycle lanes make up 11% of public space in Amsterdam’s inner city, but parked cars probably far more.
Detailed data can be found here (I took this as an opportunity to practice the knitr skills taught in the Reproducible research course).
Update 20 August - Someone at the Fietsersbond dug up this (pdf) publication of the Amsterdam Municipality from 2010 which compares the mobility of Amsterdammers over the period 1986-1991 to 2005-2008. It suggests that cycling patterns in Amsterdam may in fact differ from the general pattern in high-density cities, with more cycling among high-income residents (as suggested by the commenter quoted above):
As for the development per income class, it turns out there are substantial differences. Among high-income residents the share of cycling in the total number of trips has more than doubled (from 15% to 33%), whereas the growth is only modest among low-income residents (from 26% to 33%). This means that relatively speaking, wealthy Amsterdammers today cycle more than low-income residents.
UPDATE 15 April 2018 - In a tweet, Dermot Hanney suggests that perhaps people with lower incomes cycle more because affordable housing tends to be located at a distance from central areas and transport hubs that lends itself to cycling.
One piece of information that may shed some light on this is neighbourhood (buurt) data from Statistics Netherlands. The table below shows mean and median house value (1,000 euro) for neighbourhoods grouped by their average distance to a large supermarket.
|dist to supermarket
The data suggests that more expensive houses tend to be located at 2–3 km from a large supermarket. Other data from Statistics Netherlands show people use their bicycle (the data source doesn’t differentiate between bicycles and e-bikes) primarily for trips between 1 and 3.7km.
So this wouldn’t seem to confirm Hanney’s hypothesis. Then again, this is hardly conclusive. One would preferably want to use data at the individual level to explore this.