Using Community Engagement to Advance Bicycling in White Center
Guest blog from masters student and Cascade Bicycle Club Policy Research Intern Cheryl Tam.
Cascade-sponsored research examined barriers and opportunities to improve bicycling in White Center. The conclusions? If we want more people to bike, personal safety has to be where we start.
As a part of its work to make bicycling something all people want to do, Cascade Bicycle Club (Cascade) is working to base its advocacy efforts on community-identified needs and priorities. In advancing Cascade’s mission to improve lives through bicycling, we sought to hear directly from community members about what they value and perceive as barriers and facilitators towards cycling. From January to June 2018–as a part of my work as a Policy Research Intern and University of Washington public health graduate student–Cascade conducted an assessment to learn more about perceptions around active transportation in White Center, Washington. Active transportation refers to human-powered modes of getting around. Most often this means walking and biking, but active transportation includes anything that requires physical exertion to get from point A to point B.
For a quick summary of the research I conducted and some of the key findings, check out this video below.
Why White Center?
White Center is an urban center in unincorporated King County with high rates of racial, social, and economic diversity. These types of areas are historically underserved when it comes to active transportation. This means that the community usually lacks the same access to high-quality, well-designed infrastructure, recreational programming and transportation options compared to its surrounding neighborhoods.
In 2016, Cascade worked with White Center-based partners, as well as King County Parks to launch the nation’s first ever bicycle playground at Dick Thurnau Memorial Park. Bike playgrounds provide a smaller-scale replica of street networks for people of all ages to learn and practice bike safety in an enclosed environment. Community outreach conversations occurred throughout the launch process, and one predominant theme from discussions was that while it’s great to have a space for cyclists to acquire skills to bike safely, safe places to bike out in the community are needed as well.
White Center Bicycle Playground at Dick Thurnau Memorial Park.
Engaging with the Community
As a part of my research, Cascade worked closely with the White Center Community Development Association to determine effective, appropriate ways to hear from more members of the community. In the planning process, we spent a great deal of time considering how to enable participation by removing potential barriers. White Center is much more racially and ethnically diverse than King County overall, and only 55% of residents indicate that English is the primary language spoken at home. While we couldn’t address all the elements of diversity, language emerged as one of the more feasible factors to tackle. We conducted five total focus groups in four different languages: two in English, one in Spanish, one in Somali and one in Vietnamese. Through these focus groups, we were able to hear from almost 50 people who have been living and working in White Center for an average of 10 years. We asked each group questions like, What are the reasons you most often walk and bike in White Center? and What types of changes would encourage you and your family to bike more?
After an extended time of dialogue, here’s what we found:
- Personal safety concerns are the biggest barrier to biking in White Center. Participants expressed a desire to walk and bike more, but certain changes must take place for them to do so. Across the board, participants highlighted that the most prominent barriers to active transportation are centered around personal safety concerns—specifically neighborhood safety and risky behavior of drivers in the area. This reveals that interventions need to address broader environmental issues to achieve higher rates of active transportation. While infrastructural additions and bike-centric programming and education were all cited as facilitators, the feeling of personal safety serves as an underlying facilitator. Without changes to enhance community safety and individual peace of mind, motivation to bike and walk could still be low despite programmatic and infrastructural changes.
- Differences exist in the themes extracted from English and non-English groups. This is important as it is a clear indication of how using this level of community engagement helped uncover additional themes. It would have been easy to assume certain things about segments of White Center’s population. For example, during the Somali focus group, participants initially expressed, unanimously, that they do not ride bikes. As the conversation progressed, it emerged that they would actually be very interested in riding if cycling were more accessible and welcoming to them. Through listening to community members, Cascade is better-equipped to understand what changes represent the priorities and needs of residents in White Center.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This assessment is just one component of a ongoing process to encourage more folks to ride a bike in White Center. Increasing rates of biking and walking in White Center will take the contributions and efforts from partners beyond just Cascade or the community, and this assessment is just the first step towards the collaborative leadership needed to reach this goal.
We hosted a 1-mile policy walk in early June to share findings on the ground, and a photo from that event is shown in the banner of this post. Invitees included community leaders, elected officials, folks from various King County departments and Cascade staff. This walking tour enabled people to experience some of the barriers and facilitators raised by participants firsthand.
The final report, as well as a summary handout, will be shared back with the White Center-based partners involved as well as relevant decision-makers at the county level to help facilitate conversations about how to move forward. The report also includes practical recommendations to inform Cascade’s future work around bike policy and education in White Center. To more easily share findings back with community members, we also created the summary video above. This expands our reach, as having someone talk to you, even in English, is generally more accessible to having to read a report.
Cascade would like to thank both Cheryl for her fantastic research, as well as King County Parks's support of the focus groups that made this research possible.