Bicycling and equity: Heed the call, expand the movement - Page 2

Street Fight covers the National Bike Summit and its outreach to women and minorities

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US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx addresses the National Bike Summit.
Jason Henderson

Advocates from New York City chimed in that it was time for a "minority bicycle coalition" to advocate for women, minorities, and immigrant bicycle delivery workers. They pointed out that New York's new and much-vaunted bike infrastructure has mainly spread in more affluent, white parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, while Queens is overlooked. A speaker from the NAACP put obesity and public health at the center of the civil rights agenda and remarked on how the bike lifestyle should be brought to African American neighborhoods.

A discussion of emerging bike share systems asked how to expand to minority populations, and provided examples of how Boston subsidizes bike share membership for low income members. Boston also relaxes the charges for exceeding 30-minute rides and is figuring out ways to enable those without credit cards to participate.

Once a cynic about bike share, I experienced firsthand the benefits of a truly extensive, practical bike share system in Washington, DC (note to San Francisco — it was NOT covered in Wells Fargo or Google corporate logos). If bike share is extended to the Excelsior, Bayview, Balboa Park, Daly City, and SF State, it will work for the working class and students.

One of the most inspiring personas at the Bike Summit was Terry O'Neill, director of the National Organization for Women, who asked that bicycle advocates get beyond simply advocating for bikes. O'Neill prodded cyclists to ask: What do we need to do to make bicycling useful to women? And then she laid it out eloquently. Build affordable housing — lots of it — in areas where it is most needed, such as affluent Montgomery County, a suburb of DC, or in places like Hayes Valley and Silicon Valley. By creating the spatial proximity that makes cycling practical, women (and men) can incorporate cycling while balancing jobs, household chores, and children. This would do more to increase bicycling (and equity) than simply striping new bike lanes.

Her point is that for cycling to be logical for women, especially in complex metropolitan areas like DC or the Bay Area, well-planned and centrally located affordable housing is key. Perhaps it is time for the San Francisco Bike Coalition and Silicon Valley Bike Coalition, with their wealth of talent and donors, to create staff positions focusing on the bicycle-housing nexus and build strong partnerships with those who are fighting to build and preserve affordable housing in job- and amenity-rich areas.

Dovetailing from that, the newly elected mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, himself a convert to bicycling, urged bicycle advocates to be an active partner in local progressive political coalitions and to work with non-bike groups such as labor unions and housing advocates. Peduto was among a handful of prominent politicians, mostly mayors and members of Congress, espousing the wisdom of linking bicycling and equity as part of the urban agenda.

The overall message is clear. Cities need to move beyond the neoliberal creative class storyline about bicycling, which says that a successful city is one that has a youthful, fit, but affluent stratum for bicycles. We need to be careful about praising the bicycle as a profitable economic development strategy for Realtors who up the rent as part of a commodified package of livability.

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