Part 1: What about bike share marketing?

In this two-part blog series, I discuss the idea of bicycle share marketing as an important tool for creating a diverse user base rather than letting bicycle share market itself. 

Given bike share’s continued problem with integrating a diversity of users, why don’t we look at how its marketed?

Bicycle share is a popular new form of transportation and leisure bicycling in the United States. Despite its popularity and continued growth in cities across the country, bicycle share has a deep equity problem. From its most recent inception in places such as Washington D.C. and Minneapolis, bicycle share systems (BSSs) have been criticized for not placing stations in low-income and people of color-dominant communities and being wholly inaccessible to already underserved communities.

nr

Marketing image, Nice Ride Minnesota

Continue reading

Bike Lanes are White Lanes // Biking while Black

Big news! The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is hosting my book release party on Sept. 12 in Minneapolis. If you live in the area, please RSVP to attend the event. People of color and WTF (women, trans, femme) will be given seating priority.

NOTE: due to the overwhelming response, there will be an overflow room and a livestream which I will post on social media for all my non-Minneapolis followers. 

I wrote this blog post to frame the event but also to illustrate how my thinking has shifted since I wrote this book (the publishing cycle is quite long).

ProductImageHandler_(1).pngProductImageHandler_(1).png

The following blog post was originally published on the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition website

Before bike lanes were white lanes, there was biking while Black.

The majority of people who bicycle are people of color. So why does it seem like our bicycle infrastructure is dominated by white people? In some instances, it was designed to be that way.

Cities like Minneapolis have realized the economic advantages in highlighting local bicycle amenities in its marketing to upwardly mobile white people. And so, when bicycle advocates approach a city with bicycle lane plans, those that want to recruit talented, young (white) people are much more likely to approve such infrastructure. Despite bicycle advocacy’s history rooted in direct action like Critical Mass, there has been a notable increase in advocates working directly (and politely) with cities (including the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition).

It’s all about the benjamins

It is a good thing that cities are taking bicycling seriously as a mode of transportation. The problem is that the economic development focus is guiding both cities and advocates away from a vision of bicycling for everybody. What is the benefit of adding in bicycle lanes in North Minneapolis or the West Bank (two areas of Minneapolis with a high percentage of lower income, people of color) if the desirable “creative class” won’t be there to fill the lanes?

To be clear, the actions of bicycle advocates and city officials who prioritize privileged bicyclists in their communities may not be intentional. For example, a major road in a upcoming white neighborhood gets repaved, and a bicycle organization lobbies for new bicycle lanes during the repaving process. Did they think through whether that neighborhood already had “enough” bicycle infrastructure? Maybe, maybe not. What matters is that people outside of the privileged advocacy circles have understood these actions as exclusive, unfair, or downright racist.

Ok, but what about the communities with predominantly people of color,who do get bicycle infrastructure, only for it to fill with cobwebs or becomes infiltrated with white men in spandex?

I would offer up two explanations:

  1. Bicycle infrastructure in the U.S. has largely become a signifier of the white, middle-class. If all you see is white, hipster commuters in the bicycle lanes there is a silent signal being sent that that space is not for you. Just as, for example, white women don’t typically frequent Somali cafes filled with Somali men around Minneapolis.

  2. People of color, especially immigrants and African Americans, are constantly threatened in public space.

biking_while_black_is_a_crime.9286566.87.jpg

Some elaboration on the second point.

We are currently grappling with some horrific, racialized police violence leading to the deaths of numerous young black people and a lack of indictments for these police officers.

What strikes me is how many of these young people died after being harassed on the streets, getting off a train, or riding in a car. The unnecessary killings of people like Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, and Freddie Gray (to name just a few) make clear that within the post racial America myth, it is a life-threatening move for black people to be outside, often in their own neighborhoods. Brown specifically drew attention to himself by walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk. Tamir Rice was shot and killed in a public park. Eric Garner was standing outside a local business. Being black in a public space runs the risk of harassment and profiling by the police.

When faced with these racialized lived experiences, baseless arrests, and death sentences, all for being a mobile person of color, it is hard to argue that bicycling can be one step toward community safety.

I am not arguing that bicycle advocates should just give up on engaging a more diverse group of bicyclists. Mainstream bicycle advocates have societal power and privilege to exploit it for equity purposes. Bicycle advocates who lobby for their projects should keep the safety concerns of people of color in the front of their minds. Bicycle advocates have successfully normalized cycling in many U.S. cities, and their national platform is a powerful space to problematize the profiling of young people of color on bicycles.

How is the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition addressing this issue?

From my standpoint as a volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition I can speak to two major initiatives, although there are many more examples that could be discussed.

  1. A people-of-color-only transportation committee. Why only people of color? Well, as much as we white folks love to help with racial justice work, sometimes a space needs to be created for the actual people at stake to have the complete floor for planning and action. After all, who knows better what a community needs than one’s own community?

  2. Racial justice research projects including a soon-to-be-released report on police citations and related arrests. I will be speaking more about this research project at the book release party on Sept. 12. (and furthermore on this blog!)

 

me with book

Author of Bike Lanes are White Lanes (me) at Barnes and Noble downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Robb Hoffmann

Here we go again: it doesn’t matter that she was riding in the “proper” location

A bicyclist in Minneapolis gets hit from behind by a driver and is critically injured. Local news coverage focuses on the police statement that said she was riding in the “proper location.” Parson my French, but WTF does that mean?

From the Star Tribune article:

[She] was riding “on the right side of the right lane” at the time the car hit her from behind, said Police spokesman John Elder, who added that her position was correct for that stretch of road. There is no sidewalk on eastbound Excelsior for bicyclists to use.

Paul Walsh, you know, I wasn’t planning on knowing your journalism so well but I am sorry to say this is strike two in journalism coverage on bicyclist crashes with drivers of cars. Strike one: your coverage on Marcus Nalls (review my commentary if needed).

As Lauryn Hill so eloquently says, let’s break it down for you again:

  1. Bicyclists have the right to a full lane. The victim could have been riding in the middle of the lane, on the left side of the lane, passing into another lane.  We get it all! The whole lane! And we get to pass into other lanes (with signaling, of course).wrong Never mind that riding in the right side of the right lane is actually the most dangerous because drivers think they can scoot around you and then almost side swipe you.
    Oh the times I could count this happening to me. Bicycle educators insist that riding in the middle of the lane is the safest for all people on the street.
  2. No sidewalk to ride on? No sidewalk?! Oh police spokesperson Elder, you silly guy. Bicyclists should not ride on the sidewalk. Whether there was a sidewalk is completely irrelevant to this crash. Why Walsh reported this, I have no idea. It is really dangerous to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk.no sidewalk.jpegDrivers don’t expect to see you there and…just don’t do it. I can’t even explain this anymore. Fun trivia fact: In Minneapolis, police hand out more citations for riding on the sidewalk than any other bicycle-related no-no.
  3. By reporting on the “proper” biking of the victim, you are arguing that only proper biking can result in a blameless outcome. If the victim wasn’t in the proper location (whatever that means), would you then be blaming her for her own critical injuries? And if so, what would that blaming bring us? What help would that be to her? To bicycle safety writ large? Does the driver thus have no responsibility?
  4. Why don’t you report on the driver? The lead is the most important sentence in a news story (yeah, don’t test me, I am a journalism prof), and this is what you ran with. Ok, so for a more objective piece I suggest reporting on the driver’s location. They clearly were not in the proper location because they rode right into the bicyclist. Did you ask Elder if the driver was on their phone? Under the influence? (Ok, you at least got that one) Yapping with their friend in the car? Turning the dial on the radio?
  5. You are spreading really awful ideas about what it means to be a bicyclist. Your article is currently the most read on the Star Tribune website (5 p.m. on a Monday night). So many people are reading this dangerous framework that the bicyclist is only let off the hook of blame for her critical injuries because she was properly riding. Otherwise, hey it is fair game to blame the heck out of her for bicycling improperly. Do we do this kind of vetting for drivers? Doesn’t seem like it. You have a big voice with many eyeballs on you. Use that voice ethically and responsibly.

Paul Walsh, it feels like only yesterday that I wrote an almost identical post about your reporting on bicyclists (Marcus Nalls being “careful”). What gives, man? How can we help?

Free idea: Report on  how dangerous it is to ride a bicycle in parts of this city and the continual threat that distracted driving has on all of us.

distracted-driver-1.jpg

My thoughts go out to the victim (who I am not re-naming because of the trigger that can bring people who know her).