He is dead: it doesn’t matter that he was a “careful” bicyclist

Tragically here in Minneapolis this week, a drunk driver killed a bicyclist named Marcus Nalls. The site of the crash was on Franklin Ave.–one of the busiest and most dangerous roads that bicyclists utilize in this city.

Like many bicyclists, I track these stories with a heavy heart. We pay our respects, feel immense rage for the drivers who kill our fellow bicyclists, and engage in a few extremely frustrating internet discussions about whether they were wearing a helmet and lights.

This time around, though, the news media is making it abundantly clear that Marcus was a safe bicyclist. One headline reads:

Bicyclist killed on Franklin Ave. Wore Helmet, Lights, Just Moved to Mpls.


Bicyclist fatally run over was new to Minneapolis, careful about bike safety

These headlines are important to notice for a few reasons.

1. Bicyclists are always on the defensive. We are often asked to “prove” that we are being safe on the road. The unspoken reasoning link is that if we are not being safe then we should expect to get hurt or killed while riding. These headlines work to prove that Marcus is a safe bicyclist. This is unnecessary because it takes away from the larger issue. That is:

2. This focus on Marcus’s approach to riding takes the focus off of the impaired man who killed Marcus. The man literally drove over Marcus with his van.  And he has now been released without charges.

3. Because Marcus is being painted as an avid cyclist who knows the rules of the road, we are being assured that he did nothing wrong in this crash. Although on the surface that seems like a laudable goal of the news stories, we should not be spending ANY time reassuring the public that Marcus did nothing wrong, because:

4. A helmet and lights will not save you when a van comes barreling at you from behind without warning. Again, it doesn’t matter. I do not care if you are a 10-year veteran of bicycle commuting or a sidewalk-riding novice out to get some smokes from the corner store. All bicycle-related deaths are equal. They are awful and avoidable.

My personal connection to this death doesn’t really matter. Like many bicyclists, I ride Franklin Ave. almost every time I ride my bike. Like many bicyclists, I ride at night. Like many bicyclists, I put my safety and life in the hands of drivers that speed past me. But, I am committed to transportation equity and so additionally I am saddened that we lost a potential bicycle advocate for the African American community here in Minneapolis.

Remember, bicyclists are not putting themselves in danger when riding. People driving vehicles are.

image: indypgh.org

rest in peace.

Bike share is not working in North Minneapolis

In the two meetings I have had recently with Nice Ride (the Minneapolis bike share program) it has become clear to me that the current U.S. model for bike share is not succeeding in lower-income communities at the rate hoped for by bicycle advocates. The reasons for this are layered, including low-density neighborhoods and the current concept of bike share just not solving the transportation problems of certain residents.

Both the executive director and outreach coordinator are very open and honest about why Nice Ride is not hugely successful in North Minneapolis, despite its high profile and positive reputation. As one often skeptical of mainstream bicycle planning, I was pleasantly surprised by all the steps they took to integrate Nice Ride into neighborhoods with a lack of already existing “bike culture.” Nice Ride remains committed to serving North Minneapolis…including in new and exciting ways.

The people at Nice Ride are very open to hearing ideas that would reshape what Nice Ride looks like in North Minneapolis. Like, forget the green bikes and stations. What else can we do?

So you are reading that correctly: they actually WANT ideas. They do not have a plan. But they have funding and bicycles.

Because this is an anomaly in the bike world, I hope this news gets around fast. Nice Ride has specifically requested ideas from bicycle advocates.

Perhaps someone out there has a vision of how Nice Ride can bring bikes to North in a way that would actively serve the community.

You may comment here or contact Nice Ride directly: volunteer@niceride.org

[[For background on the North side’s relationship with Nice Ride, please see this local NPR article]]

Where is the invisible cyclist?

The writers behind the Invisible Cyclist blog, Julian Agyeman and Steve Zavestoski, posted a literature review of popular press and academic musings about bikes and transportation equity.

You can check it out here  (full disclosure: I am cited)

Although the collection of new literature on the topic is helpful to anyone interested in biking and gentrification//equity//sustainability, it also suggests that advocates need to shift focus. Our voices have been heard through community meetings, dialogue with other cyclists, and  discussions with our neighbors. It appears that less and less people scoff when you combine bikes with the concepts of gentrificationclassism, or racism. I have also had multiple undergraduate students contact me to discuss their research on this very subject.

We have certainly made progress, but we still have a lot of work to do. For example, I am still disappointed in the lack of data collected on people of color bicyclists–from the U.S. Census to local bike advocate organizations. I hope to work with local organizations to experiment with common data collections sites such as Bike Counts and focus groups to see where we can improve research.

All of this to say that this is an exciting time where we can shift our focus to some strategic planning to make sure equity is a part of all bicycle advocacy discussions.

Helmets, M.

Zombies, transportation, and racism: A night with a camera and the light rail

Zombies, transportation, and racism: A night with a camera and the light rail

Late into the evening on October 12, I took two documentary filmmakers, from either coast, to the local Zombie Pub Crawl. The filmmakers were in town to do preliminary research on the Twin Cities and the theme of “access and opportunity” as it pertains to transportation issues. I figured, at the very least, it would be fun for them to film hundreds of young adults passionately acting like zombies as they roamed Cedar Ave. in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

In reflecting back upon the evening I find myself caught up in a volatile mixture of emotions. In pride, I marched the filmmakers through Minneapolis to reveal the public’s desire for better transportation. Along the way, though, I was jolted out of love for my city as young adults smattered with sweet-smelling fake blood revealed the true racism that remains in this city.

LTR >> Cedar-Riverside

In Minneapolis one of the best times to ride the light rail is during public events where driving is a rather costly idea. It is one of the few times where people in this city who are usually glued to their vehicles will hop onto the trains and timidly jam themselves up against strangers. The Zombie Pub Crawl is no exception.

We hopped on the light rail downtown, a few stops from the Crawl. The train was mostly empty and I had plenty of time and space to assist a man in showing him how to get to the airport. As we approached the Metrodome (where our NFL team plays) I turned to the filmmakers to point out the stadium, but was suddenly confronted with zombies. They pounded on the train doors and filed in screaming BRAINS! I nervously held onto my bike as it swayed in the vertical bike rack and watched as my compatriot was slowly pushed up against the window, drunken zombies surrounding him. Meanwhile, the other filmmaker had gotten it all on camera: empty to painfully full. We only had one stop to go. Continue reading