Bicycling While Black

Over the past few days I've learned a lot about what it means to be Black in America. There's always more to learn and even more to do. After our blog on Tuesday Dave and I talked about how to move from seeing and feeling to doing, because it's the most important question - how can we use our platform to take action that makes a difference?

I'll start to answer it today, which really means I'll share with you what we've learned that is shaping our thinking. In the comments to Tuesday's blog Joshua asked the question that got our wheels turning:

But on race, as far as I can tell, nothing has improved since I got into the sport 10ish years ago and as bikes get more complicated, races get more expensive and tech advances, barriers seem to be getting higher and higher. How can we do better? How can cyclists/consumers like me put pressure on the industry and sport to do better? 

I just finished reading The National Team, about the role the US Women's National Soccer team's played in driving pay equity for women's sports broadly, and in bringing more youth into the sport as fans and players. One of the things the athletes realized is that in order for the capital S Sport to thrive, they needed a much broader coalition of kids choosing the lower case s sport early on. Thinking about Joshua's question, I wanted to first get a better understanding of what it's like to bicycle while Black. Here's what I learned.

First, the headwinds:

  • Only 5.1% of bike riders in the US are African American, despite the African American population at over twice that percentage. 
  • A study in Portland found that cost was cited as an impediment to cycling by 60% of African Americans and Hispanics.
  • A separate study in Portland found also that 100% of African Americans expressed a fear that drivers would be hostile to them while cycling. 100%.
  • That fear shows up in usage patterns. 9% of Americans say they are comfortable riding on roads and in traffic ("vehicular cyclists" is the term used by cycling advocates and urban planners). But when you start to look at that number through a demographic lens, you realize that it's a lot of white men who are buoying it. Only 6% of women, for example, are vehicular cyclists. For African Americans it drops to 5%.

The inequities, while predictable, are nevertheless harrowing:

  • The fatality rate for Blacks in car vs bicycle collisions is 30% higher than it is for white cyclists.
  • They are also more likely to be ticketed. A 9 year study in Chicago found that more than twice as many tickets to cyclists were written in African American communities than predominantly white areas, a stat all the more staggering now that you know only 5.1% of bike riders are Black. In fact, of the 10 areas in the city with the highest number of citations issued, 7 were Black communities and the other three were largely Latino. Many of these tickets were for riding on the sidewalk. Bike lanes in Chicago at the time of the study were rare in the Black communities, increasing the likelihood of non-vehicular Black cyclists resorting to the sidewalks to ride safely. And in addition to carrying a $50 - $200 fine that Blacks were being charged more than twice as often as white cyclists, the stops afforded police an opportunity to check for other outstanding warrants. Many reportedly used bicycle violations as a sort of stop and frisk technique.
  • Diminished access to cycling also conveys an economic penalty. It costs an average of $308 per year to own and operate a bike, compared to $8,220 for a car. This is a regressive expense that disproportionately punishes POC whose income levels are on average lower than white Americans. 

Despite all this, there is some good news:

  • From 2001 - 2009 (the last period where I could find data available) bicycle trips by African Americans rose 100%, more than any other racial group. Trips by white cyclists increased 22%.
  • 86% of POC have a positive view of bicyclists, and 71% agree that safer bicycling would make their communities better.
  • African Americans are also over twice as likely as whites (38% to 14%) to agree that their perception of cyclists would improve if people on bikes represented a broader coalition of the community.

So back to Joshua's question: what can we do?

  • 60% of POC say that more bike facilities would encourage them to ride more. Bike infrastructure is a highly localized issue. Get involved in community government, planning boards and citizens' advisory boards and demand a greater investment in Black communities.
  • 39% of POC say that learning safe riding skills would increase their riding (compared to 20% of white cyclists). Create these riding skills classes and partner with organizations that can help bring them to where they are needed.
  • 36% of POC say that an active riding club would increase their bicycling (compared to 21% of white cyclists). This is something I admit I never thought of, as riding clubs to me have been about feeling fast, not feeling safe. Building these is harder now because of COVID-19, but we can start planning and promoting these for the future. 

The other "we" - the November we - are still thinking about expressly what we can do. But we know it has to be something and we'll keep talking through it here. In fact I think that's what Dave has queued up for tomorrow.

 

Sources:


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  • David Fijol on

    Thanks for the thoughtful posts guys. First thing we all need to do is find our voice, then take action. You guys are leading here. Thank you.

  • Josh on

    Wow, that’s a lot more than I bargained for in writing my comment to Tuesday’s post. Thank you so much for doing a lot of research. This is a lot of new info to me. Where I live in Baltimore, our bike advocacy organization, Bikemore, has become very equity focused. Like most cities, Baltimore has more bike facilities in white neighborhoods. This needs to change and we are working on it. We have a few Black bike clubs which is very cool and we are trying to build more pump tracks as bmx is a super popular activity for the kids. Anyway, we have so much farther to go but thanks so much for really going deep on this.

    FWIW, I intend to buy a wheelset from you for my wife fairly soon (was planning to before these posts, but your attitude has cemented it). Thanks again

  • Josh on

    Wow, that’s a lot more than I bargained for in writing my comment to Tuesday’s post. Thank you so much for doing a lot of research. This is a lot of new info to me. Where I live in Baltimore, our bike advocacy organization, Bikemore, has become very equity focused. Like most cities, Baltimore has more bike facilities in white neighborhoods. This needs to change and we are working on it. We have a few Black bike clubs which is very cool and we are trying to build more pump tracks as bmx is a super popular activity for the kids. Anyway, we have so much farther to go but thanks so much for really going deep on this.

    FWIW, I intend to buy a wheelset from you for my wife fairly soon (was planning to before these posts, but your attitude has cemented it). Thanks again

  • David on

    Thanks so much for this. Way too many cycle companies and outlets remaining quiet hoping for this to ‘blow over’. My limited experience with bike infra includes terrible racist NIMBYism during the talk about extending the Woonasquatucket bike path because it would be used by people from Olneyville…

  • David Weisbach on

    Check out your local Major Taylor Cycling Club. They tend to cater to black cyclists, but at least the one I’m familiar with—Chicago’s club—is incredibly welcoming and friendly to everyone. Also, check out Justin Williams’s various social media streams. Great stuff.


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