“Why don’t more African-Americans ride bicycles?”
That headline from a national advocacy organization asks a question that’s common to many planners, policymakers, and advocates. It’s a question that helped spark a discussion about equity that has been a focus of many programs, studies and initiatives over the past decade.
For the most part the response to that question has centered around standard stuff like research and data, attempts to uncover the barriers to bicycling faced by people of color, and how organizations can be more inclusive. Those are important parts of the work; but what if we’ve been avoiding the root cause?
What if we aren’t making enough progress because we’re too uncomfortable to acknowledge the racist foundation of our land-use policies, transportation system and planning culture? What if the white privilege of many planning and advocacy professionals has led to the segregation of black people out of bike lanes? What if many black people do bike, but in places white people don’t usually associate with “cyclists” or “commuters”?
Those are just some of the questions that bounced around my head as I biked home from a talk given by Tamika Butler on Wednesday night. Butler was chosen by Portland State University’s Inititiave for Bicycle & Pedestrian Innovation to give the Anne Niles Active Transportation Lecture. She didn’t hold anything back.