Seattle’s Rainier Valley is home to many communities and working families from different backgrounds. It’s not, however, a place where lots of people get around on bikes. I volunteered with the Rainier Beach Transit Justice Project this spring, and experienced firsthand the vulnerability people feel waiting for transit in areas marked by gang violence. It’s a part of the city that does not enjoy the positive benefits of walking and biking at the same scale as neighborhoods a short distance north.
In order to investigate what people think of bicycling in Rainier Valley neighborhoods, I conducted ethnographic interviews with leaders in communities of color. The interviews are posted on this website to enrich our understanding of how perceptions of safety, culture, class, and race influence people’s transportation choices.
The Rainier Valley area may be undergoing demographic change in the next few years as investments in light rail mean rising rents and property values in the valley. Local environmental justice group Puget Sound Sage released a report this spring that suggested that displacement often follows redevelopment. The benefits of “green” urbanism aren’t shared equally when low income families get pushed out of neighborhoods that see sustainability-oriented development.
What will be the fate of bicycling in Rainier Valley? Will rates of bike commuting go up as longstanding communities leave? Or will the local bike movement work with existing communities to promote bicycling in the valley today? Some groups are already working to build communities around equity in bicycling, developing programming that supports marginal bicycle users and helps create new images of bicycling. Bike Works has expanded their work with youth to start facilitating workshops at community-based organizations to help adults and families get started with biking.
And Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has worked to build an informed and community-based group to design bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Rainier Valley. Their website has a great list of resources and information on how to get involved.