The first part of bicycle equity is acknowledging that some developers are using bike lanes to support their gentrification of communities. People of color aren’t completely unfounded when they say, “You want to build a bike lane in my community, because you want to make my community more appealing to white people.”
There are bicycle advocacy projects that are about investors and what investors want. Those projects don’t fill in gaps, they don’t address the needs of communities of color to get from point a to point b, they are not from the grassroots, and they only get built after white people who moved in last week ask for them.
For there to be bicycle equity we must acknowledge that this sometimes happens. Why should people of color trust bicycle advocates if they claim they have no idea that there are investors that build bike lanes to make property more valuable? It would mean they are insincere or ignorant and why would anyone want to work with a person who is insincere or ignorant?
But also there is another part of this. It is the same reason we need bicycle equity.
When communities are developed they are built for people to live in, raise a family in, stay and build social capital. All communities except African-American communities, the most hypersegregated metropolitan ethnic group. According to papers like Privileges Spaces by Squires and Kuburin when a community is African-American there is less funding for it. The infrastructure in African-American communities seem to be built for people to drive through and not to drive to.
African-American communities are regularly cut in half by highways as discussed by Brown in Down to the Wire: Displacement and Disinvestment in Baltimore City where the Highway to Nowhere was built just to destroy Black communities. African-American communities are bulldozed to make stadiums, redlined to prevent loans and business development, over-policed and used as dumping grounds for environmental waste.
Sustainability protections in communities of color can be waived for the promise of jobs, jobs are touted not by the constituents, but by the politicians who are paid to convince the community that jobs are more important than health even poorly paying jobs with no health benefits.
Urban planners, government agencies, and counties have regularly spent the least amount of money possible on communities of color in regards to street design, greenery, business development and transit, so many of communities of color aren’t as traditionally aesthetically nice. African-American communities have character, but it’s character that individual shop owners, churches and residents add, it has zero to do with any infrastructure support from the government. Communities of color have deferred maintenance and it is is something that they accept. So now many African-Americans when they see uneven sidewalks, sporadic trash pick up, slow snow removal, poor lighting, streets you have to play frogger to cross, no cycle tracks, and no greenery they view it as a symbol of the Black community. This isn’t by accident this narrative of “the hood” and of nice things are for white people has been pushed as the accepted idea of what the Black community should look like and accept.
It allows for the government to be economical i.e. cheap in regards to Black communities, because nice changes mean that it’s white, your rent will go up and you will have to leave.
It allows for all of the homeless shelters in a city to be in the Black section of town. It allows for any and all services for people in need to be in the Black section of town. It allows for the playgrounds in the Black section of town to have a fewer swings and no bathrooms. It allows for the Black community to be the mammy for the entire city. The place to throw away people, the place to drive trucks through and to fly polluting airplanes over.
The Black community is viewed as the place that is the trash bag, a trash bag that you throw away once it is full.
Bicycle equity doesn’t accept that. It doesn’t accept that the only way a community can stay Black is by keeping a highway in the middle of it. Black people deserve to have roads they can walk on, cycle tracks to ride bicycles on, public transit that is accessible, and public squares for events and/or public meetings.
Bicycle equity is a component of Complete Streets. Bicycle Equity is the gold standard of Complete Streets. You want real change and a road diet or do you want stickers?
In my opinion the stressing of a general complete streets approach in Black communities over bicycle specific changes isn’t about concern for gentrification, it is about money, and not wanting to spend any in African-American communities.
Complete Streets can mean cops just passing out slow down stickers.
Bicycle equity demands for infrastructure changes and community input.
Bicycle equity demands for an equity gap analysis and infrastructure changes done by the results of that data. It prioritizes communities that have the largest gaps.
Bicycle equity is also about working with urban planners and cities to come up with solutions that stop gentrification, sexism and racism. Solutions like universal income, universal childcare, enforcement of rent control, cooperative housing and a return to publicly owned housing and this time we will continue to fund it fully.
Bicycle equity demands for streets that are nice in the Black community even if no one white wants to live there. It demands on connecting the physical community to the health of the residents and the residents to jobs. Bicycle equity includes transit, road diets, and labor. Bicycle equity is using the bicycle as a tool to bring equity to the urban planning aspect to communities that have traditionally not gotten their fair share in regards to public service and infrastructure.
Bicycle equity is to make sure that Complete Streets is not just reduced to a checklist with the cheapest as possible placeholder fixes.
Lark Lo is a journalist, producer of the Black Kids in Outer Space VOD and the publisher of “VELO my name is: Cycle Tracks” a literary print publication that publishes philosophical stories about the journey people take on their bicycles. She is based in the Metropolitan New York area.