Bicycling & Equity: The New Majority
By guest blogger Anthony Taylor, League of American
Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council and Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota
Minneapolis Urban League group ride. Photo courtesy of Anthony Taylor.
"The new majority that elected a president-youth, women and people of color -is playing a key role in pedaling the country toward a more Bicycle Friendly America. These diverse communities are embracing bicycling at a high rate, redefining the face and trajectory of the bicycle movement and the way the nation addresses transportation."
These lines are from the opening of The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity, a report recently released by the League of American Bicyclists and Sierra Club. As a local activist in the Twin Cities and also a member of the League's new Equity Advisory Council, I feel this report is an impressive first step to embrace equity and to acknowledge that matters of transportation have been historically inequitable--not simply as bikes relate to cars, but also as communities of color have been affected by unequal access to the benefits of infrastructure improvements.
In taking this step, the League literally had to change its definition of "equity." The new definition acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed to assist in the equitable provision of effective opportunities to all groups. This perspective is key to realizing the genuine opportunity in the bicycling movement.
Credit: The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity
I believe that any time public monies are used for infrastructure or resource improvements, because of historical and persisting inequities, organizations and municipalities must use unique and culturally specific strategies to enlist, engage, and inform "resource challenged" communities. They must also be prepared to use a different standard of measurement for success, especially short-term success.
For low-income communities and communities of color, the lack of safe places to ride in their neighborhoods, unequal representation in transportation project planning, and unequal financial burdens prevent equal access to cycling and its benefits. When I travel and perform a cursory analysis of bike infrastructure distribution, I typically see that the network is weakest where the highest percentages of people of color reside. I don't believe that this is malicious; I believe that these communities at worst have become invisible and at best represent an inconvenience to connectivity within a metro area.
From my perspective, leaving North Minneapolis out of the initial roll-out of the Nice Ride Minnesota bike-share program in the Twin Cities was a classic example of this. I always expected that, from a pure "probability of success" measure, North Minneapolis would not be included at first. But the leadership at Nice Ride Minnesota, political leaders, and the bike advocacy community, including TLC, have since responded swiftly to expand the system. The will to do the right thing is there.
Credit: The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity
When I talk to most advocates, they are disheartened by the low level of participation in the bicycling/multi-modal transportation movement by communities of color and they spend lots of time trying to think of ways to get these communities activated and engaged. My response to them is: smile, the good news is that it is early. Although the movement has years under its belt, it is still a fledgling. The vision of League of American Bicyclists to achieve 5 percent of trips by bike by 2020 is modest and the low nature of the number represents the great opportunity as communities of color come into the movement--in their own time, with their unique perspectives and unique motivations.
The exciting thing about the "new majority mobility movement" is that it is, well, diverse. The real leaders in diversity and equity (they are not the same) are the community bike shops. These amazing bastions of youth and optimism are at ground zero solving the issues of affordability, access, education, and economics/economic development. We are fortunate in the Twin Cities to have a number of these great organizations, including Cycles for Change, SPOKES Bike Walk Connect, and The Hub. The Hub, for example, is a worker-owned co-op that also has put its dollars and energy to work increasing access and equity. I predict that we will see the national network of community bike shops emerging in a strong, cohesive, economic voice in the next five years.
Members of Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Anthony Taylor.
Bike clubs with the specific mission of increasing African American or Hispanic youth and adult participation in the sport of cycling are cropping up all over the country. Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota (of which I am a founding member) is collaborating with other African American bike clubs to support a national racing team from Rwanda. As the organizations and relationships mature, they will become powerful and compelling bike advocates because they have the resources and relationships to create change.
Organizations like Red Bike and Green are less of a bike club or bike advocacy organization and more of a social/economic/environmental justice organization that sees the bike as a means to address health, economic, and environmental disparities that disproportionately affect the black community.
In the Twin Cities, Chicago, Washington DC, and Atlanta, women's bike organizations are springing up and capturing the imagination of women and communities that largely have been uninvolved.
The new immigrant story that it is being written here and in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York is bridging the gap between social justice and bicycle advocacy.
The theme of connecting social, economic, environmental, and health justice/equity is a common thread in the new majority mobility movement. At the center of these movements are people, not bikes.The motivation is to impact the quality of life for "their" communities. And I would be surprised if many did not also share the League's belief that:
"The bicycle is a remarkable invention that has revolutionized personal travel; has been the catalyst for technological innovation; has been integral to significant social change, including the emancipation of women; and has resulted in remarkable stories of sporting prowess and achievement. The bicycle is an iconic symbol of freedom, independence, and style.
The bicycle is also a vehicle of the future. No other means of travel offers the combined benefits of sustainability, energy independence, efficiency and efficient use of space, physical activity, affordability and economic development, and just plain fun, than the bicycle."
I am honored to be a connected to progressive change agents in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul bicycling community, and to be a part of a group of brilliant leaders from around the country. It is our time.