Oh the Places I Went! (mainly MPR)

This blog post (do we still blog?) is more of an acknowledgment that while doing rad bike equity stuff I have fully left this website out of the loop.

My bad.

Hello, from a vegan taco.

And for those of you who are not academics, I’ll let you in on something. Academics typically use the summer as you may New Year’s. A time to reset, recalibrate, and reflect. Hence the oddly-time mid-year post about what I’ve been up to.

In the past year I have given talks about my book (hello Baltimore and Milwaukee!) and presented at a few academic conferences (hello NCA and AAG!).

I am available to give talks, so email me if you’d like me to visit your school, workplace, and/or community.

All that said, I am most proud of the work I did in late 2016 with Anneka Kmiecik as we completed an in-depth analysis of citations given to bicyclists in Minneapolis.

This report was supported by Our Streets Minneapolis (formally known as the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition).

me and anthony at mpr

Anthony Taylor and I waiting outside the MPR studios, Oct. 25, 2016.

While many of my public talks were challenging, invigorating, and fun I believe that “peak Melody” was when MPR invited me to the studio talk about the citations report with my friend Anthony Taylor.

I got a chance to tell a large audience about the report and Anthony and I fielded some great questions from the listeners.

This year has been very humbling and…wait I am already way too humble for my own good. It has been very lovely to see so much positive attention given to my book (Bike Lanes are White Lanes. Get it now!).

If you are interested in keeping up with this conversation, make sure to join the Bike Equity Network via Google Groups. We are keeping the bike equity conversation alive one email at a time.

Until then,

Helmets.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

Re-blog: In a Wheelchair? Good Luck on Franklin Avenue

Last month I wrote a short article about ADA compliance on Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis.

Franklin Ave. sidewalk

Franklin Ave. sidewalk

The focus is more on sidewalks, but the issue of equitable infrastructure remains.

From the article: Working-class and poor people get the worst pedestrian amenities even though they are the ones that use the sidewalks the most. These despicable conditions are at its worst in the poorest area of Franklin Avenue. It is no coincidence that these narrow sidewalks are on the edge of Phillips (the stereotypical “bad” neighborhood south of downtown).

Check out the article here!

Northside Nice Ride Neighborhood Ride (6/20/15)

This is my second summer helping out with the Nice Ride Neighborhood program. Our local bike share company, Nice Ride, in partnership with community organizations, offers a long-term bicycle loan program in the summertime. Participants get to keep a flashy orange bike from June to October. They can also earn $200 towards a new-to-them bicycle by pledging to ride twice a week and attending four Nice Ride Neighborhood-organized events. In North Minneapolis, about 200 people have orange bikes this year. In St. Paul, the number is around 70. The program has almost triples in size from its inaugural year.

From an equity standpoint, the program succeeds immensely in its diversity of participants. Much of this has to do with the community organizations that partner with Nice Ride to make this a vibrant community experience. This includes bicycle organizations that represent marginalized bicycle communities, such as Women on Bikes and Major Taylor, leading the group rides.

I attended the first event scheduled for North Minneapolis this year. For this event, Major Taylor Cycling Club organized and led a group ride from Webber Park to the nearby Juneteenth celebration along the Mississippi River trail.

Nice Ride Neighborhood participants circle-up for a pre-ride check-in

Nice Ride Neighborhood participants circle-up for a pre-ride check-in

This year’s Juneteenth was a heavy day for many people. A celebration rooted in emancipation seemed trying on the heels of unspeakable murder and a year of constant protest against police brutality. But there is nothing more real than an African-American cycling group leading a majority Black group of bicyclists to Juneteenth and around the neighborhood’s off-street trails. I was happy to witness such an occasion.

Walter, a leading member of Major Taylor, talks with the crowd about ride safety.

Walter, a leading member of Major Taylor, talks with the crowd about ride safety.

The group of participants grows and the hot summer sun peeks out just in time for our 5-mile ride.

The group of participants grows and the hot summer sun peeks out just in time for our 5-mile ride.

The ride itself was full of life. Around 45 people attended, which proved to be a challenge when we initially winded down the hilly bike trail. Some participants were still learning how to maneuver their bicycles, which resulted in one early-on crash. The rider was fearless as she got back on her bike quickly and continued with the ride. As I told her, I would have still been crying on the ground and refusing to keep biking, so kudos to her and her courage to continue on!

Due to the crash, we got cut off from the first half of the group and ended up meandering a bit off-course. Add that to my list of bicycle-asks: detailed markings and directionals on trails!

We soon found our way to the Juneteenth celebration. We only stayed for 15 minutes because we had to head back to the park and eat the food awaiting us. I think the participants would have enjoyed a longer stay at the celebration. Some of us talked about coming back, but those plans did not come to fruition mostly due to tiredness after our ride! It was fun to turn a bunch of heads at Juneteenth with our wild group of orange bike riders and I wished the participants could have soaked that in a bit longer. Something to consider for next year, perhaps.

Our ride back took a different route, showing off even more off-street bike trails to the participants. On the way back, another fearless woman crashed her bike and got right back up and kept riding. We discussed how cool her scuff marks made her look.

My perceptions of (lacking) Northside amenities were challenged, although I did take note that this infrastructure is very far north, on the perimeter of the neighborhood. But, if people are looking for relaxing trails to ride near their home, they are certainly beautiful options on the Northside. As for infrastructure for utility transportation? Still need some work on that.

The bridge of dreams, tucked away behind the bicycle trail

The bridge of dreams, tucked away behind the Webber Park bicycle trail

When we got back to the park, a lovely spread of food awaited us. A local catering company, that makes a point to hire at-risk youth by the way (!!!), made us sandwiches with handmade bread. The young men who served us were clearly trained in fine-dining service, which I hope made people feel mad respected! Everyone was clearly stuffed after eating lunch. Many of us stayed around and chatted (some Black Girls Do Bike networking happened!), others went home for a nap. I ended up riding with a participant another 5 miles to an arts festival on the Northeast side of town. I finished up my day by randomly running into Walter from Major Taylor, our leader for the Juneteenth ride. On our bike ride together we accidentally rode our bikes through a very closed, very under-construction street. Whoops!

These group rides with Neighborhood participants remind me how important community is to bike riding, especially if you are new to biking around town. As a continual skeptic of bike share and its related programming, there is very little negative to say about this program. It builds strong and fearless bicyclists, fosters community, and exposes people to a variety of bicycle infrastructure and community events.

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