Black lives matter; so does public space

December 11, 2014

April Corbin, equity writer

A recent demonstration in Chicago. |, Scott L.

The physical safety of black men in cities and the physical safety of people bicycling in cities are very different issues.

But they’re both descended from an enduring human problem: public space.

The country is reeling over the recent deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless other individuals who have paid the ultimate price for being black in America. Much talk has focused on the use of excessive force by police officers, but that only addresses a fragment of something much grander.

What we are collectively realizing the effects of our well-documented institutionalized racism. In light of seemingly preventable deaths of black men and boys by the hands of men in uniforms, Americans are questioning their roles in society, checking their privilege and asking: How do we make this country better?

Similarly, organizations like PeopleForBikes must contemplate our place in this ongoing debate. Some of our peers already have.

On the surface, it may seem superficial to talk about bicycles when there are protests across the country shutting down streets and mass transit. The comfort of a protected bike lane pales in comparison to the comfort of knowing a responding police officer will default to treating you with dignity rather than seeing you as a ?demon.? Many issues at play here are far beyond our scope.

Still, our mission is without a doubt tied to equity. Transportation is about access and mobility. The structures of our metropolitan areas, our neighborhoods and our streets themselves influence nearly every aspect of our daily lives. When we define what our public spaces look like, we codify who and what is accepted within them. In our (successful!) mission to unite one million riders, part of our goal has been to show the diversity of people who rely on, love and support bicycling. They are all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, classes and religions.

As PeopleForBikes works on a forthcoming report on equity and protected bike lanes, and as we expand our focus in the coming year to include access to bike sharing, one of our immediate lessons has been how strong the connections between infrastructure and commerce and community truly are. People all across the country are using bicycles to better connect people within their own neighborhood and surrounding ones. Others are expanding individuals? access to job opportunities. These things have a rippling effect that leads to broader change.

Bicycles aren’t the solution, but they can play a vital role. As we process the devastating details of recent events across the country, we will be acknowledging more than ever our place within the ecosphere of social justice. Because we know when we talk about bikes, we are actually talking about a lot more.


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