2 hours of cycle watching, 1 big lesson learned

2 hours of cycling observations, 1 big lesson learned

Editorial by Courtney Thraen, Director of Downtown Framingham, Inc.

While studying public policy and city planning for a combined six years, I took my fair share of research methods courses.  I always found observational analysis to be one my favorite forms of research.  Learning about people through their behavior in public settings is always an insightful, focused exercise.



In January 2015, Framingham adopted a Complete Streets Policy.  Next, Framingham established its Bike and Pedestrian Plan in 2017.    The end of this document outlines time-driven goals under areas of policy, education, planning, funding, and data collection, among others. Unfortunately, Framingham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission was disbanded under Framingham’s City Charter in 2018.    

Two years ago, DFI started hosting brewCycle at Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Co. to highlight the ongoing needs of cyclists and pedestrians in south Framingham, an area that networks closely with its neighbors in Ashland and Natick. 


This year at brewCycle on Saturday, June 8, we can petition our U.S. Senators to co-sponsor S.1098, the Transportation Alternatives Enhancements Act. Per MassBike, “The Transportation Alternatives program represents nearly 50% of all the federal funding that goes to bicycling and walking networks and trails in our communities, so small changes can have a big impact on how we see our neighborhoods…”.


So knowing all this, I spent two hours watching for cyclists and pedestrians from my observation station at n+1 Cyclery at 37 Waverly Street during a Saturday afternoon (May 25, 2019).  Nearly two years after bike lane install, I was curious to count the active leisure users on a warm spring weekend. While determining helmet usage and bike lane usage was pretty clear cut, I couldn’t definitively identify either gender (including transgender) or race.  Even so, I made an attempt at noting these two important, yet unclear, variables; no assumptions were made about sexual orientation.  I may go back to observe “commuter cyclists” in the morning or late afternoon.


I observed 10 walkers and 25 cyclists. Of the walkers, six appeared male and four appeared female. Five walkers appeared Latinx, two appeared black and three appeared white.

Only two of the 25 cyclists appeared female.

When observing race, five appeared black, nine appeared white, and eleven appeared Latinx.

Of the 25 cyclists, only 9 wore a helmet.

Of the nine helmet users, only one appeared to be female with the rest appearing to be male.

Of the nine helmet users, eight appeared white and one appeared black.

Of the 25 cyclists, only 11 riders used the bike lane.

All 11 bike lane users appeared to be male.

Of the 11 bike lane users, eight appeared white and three appeared black.

Of the 25 cyclists, 11 were headed east on Route 135 and 14 were headed west on Route 135.


Regardless of gender or race, the majority of cyclists observed (more than 50% - and many appearing in the late teens and early 20s) neither wore a helmet nor used the bike lane along Route 135.
— Courtney Thraen

If my assumptions on race and gender were proven accurate through in-person interviews, then it appears white males are more inclined cycle, use the bike lane, and wear a helmet.  Overall, it appears males were much more likely to cycle than females, at least in this location.  Again, if assumptions on race and gender were proven accurate, black and Latinx male cyclists were more likely to ride their bikes on sidewalks and would likely not have and/or not wear a helmet.  Furthermore, the ages of the white male cyclists appeared much older than the appearance of much younger (late teens, early 20s) black and Latinx cyclists that chose to mostly ride their bikes on the sidewalks. Again, observations of race and gender can inform who has access to education, safety equipment, and trained confidence to use the Route 135 bike lane next to fast-moving traffic.


Framingham’s Bike and Pedestrian Plan shows that Objective 5.6 - bicycle training and rules of the road - would fall solely upon the now-obsolete Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.  I believe our very active community can band together to create access to cycling education and safety equipment, namely a helmet, specifically targeted for late teens and young adults.   Major kudos to Discovering Hidden Gems for creating access to helmets at its annual Ride Into Summer on June 22 at Farm Pond.