5 Strategies for Equitable Active Transportation Planning and Advocacy

Cross-posted from the Alliance for Biking and Walking

Photo: John St. John via Flickr
Photo: John St. John via Flickr

It started as a lively discussion on the Bike Equity Network — a listserv for mobility and equity advocates working within walk/bike advocacy and planning — related to a Washington Post article that examined the notion of bike lanes as symbols of gentrification. The online conversation that transpired was rich, frank, and underscored the need to bring the conversation to a broader audience in a more interactive format. So this month, the Alliance hosted a highly anticipated Distance Learning Webinar: “Active Transportation & Anti-Displacement.”

Co-facilitated by Dr. Mike Smart, Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, and featuring insight from several equity leaders, the webinar was a timely and candid conversation that provided Alliance members an opportunity to hear diverse perspectives from and ask questions of advocates working within academia and advocacy — and future planners in Dr. Smart’s class.

Special thanks to Dr. Mike Smart, as well as our presenters:

Listen to the full recording on SoundCloud here and read a summary of the main takeaways below. Also catch some of the conversation that happened on Twitter via hashtag #MobilityEquity. Enjoy!

Acknowledge that bicycle infrastructure is wrapped up in larger development processes spurring gentrification, which has in many cases been done on purpose.

Urban development and re-development strategies employed in cities and towns across the U.S. over the last decade have spurred the erasure of communities, culture and the displacement of low-income and communities of color, and these strategies have included bike infrastructure. By acknowledging this, bike/walk advocates and planners can begin to be allies and address anti-displacement strategies.

Engage people and communities in a real way.

Transportation planning and urban planning in the U.S. have a long tradition of excluding communities, particularly low-income and communities of color, in its processes. This has yielded social and racial inequities — and a deep distrust in many communities. Therefore, it’s important to engage communities in a real way. Be ready to listen and not talk about bikes or push your agenda at meetings. Figure out ways you can support a community’s agenda through your leverage as an advocate or planner. And once a real relationship has formed, then engage people, give them a seat and vote at the decision making table, not simply a token invitation to diversify a room. Give people the power to make informed decisions about their own mobility and transportation choices.

Be an advocate for communities, not just bikes.

As you work on projects and campaigns, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that bikes and bike infrastructure are perceived by those who aren’t currently bicycling as only useful for others. So, rather than advocating against the community for your desired end result or ‘win,’ advocate for the ways in which the communities you are working in and with want, see, or need bike and bike infrastructure fitting in. The only way this can be understood is by authentically engaging with communities (see takeaway 2!) and learning from them. And remember, a win for people and their mobility is a win for all of us, so find out what that win looks like in whatever neighborhood you are working with, and advocate with and for them to achieve that.

Advocates and planners need cultural competency training and education.

Teachers, public health workers and many other public service professions require cultural competency training and education. However, the planning field, which many advocates work in, doesn’t require such training — despite the inherent and constant need for community building work, especially in communities that are different from one’s own. As culture — tradition, language, and other norms — is in large part what constitutes a community, understanding how those norms shape people’s use of various public spaces is critical. So, advocates and planners interested in developing more inclusive and culturally competent campaigns, planning processes, and projects ought to seek out on-going training.

“Stay Woke or Wake Up”

And finally, the most salient piece of advice was offered by Tamika Butler: “Stay Woke or Wake Up.” When you’re a person that identifies with the norm being presented or being culturally validated, it’s easy to not see the perspective or turn a blind eye to other experiences or realities in society. However, for people whose culture or norms are not the validated as the mainstream, they don’t have a choice in turning a blind eye to the disparities or inequities of their own experience or reality. It is lived. So, as advocates for communities, it’s our job to be aware of that — and be accountable to it, as well.

Again, thanks to everyone that registered for the webinar and for staying woke with us! Click here to learn more and join the Bike Equity Network.

  • W.O.C.

    Do these Lugodytes actually do progressive transportation and urban planning advocacy or do they just critique other advocates? I would love to see the Lugodytes actually show us with some concrete stories and examples of their model of advocacy actually working effectively, rather than generating yet another list of demands and unsolicited tips for working advocates to follow. It’s funny that they don’t even follow their own advice. They impose their heavy-handed, top-down, patronizing, leftist academic criticism on an advocacy community that they clearly don’t know or understand all that well.

  • ND

    Hi WOC,

    Yes. All of the folks that were on the panel have “real” experience leading change within their respective communities via bicycle-related community-based organizing efforts they started/have been engaged in, at the advocacy organizations they’ve worked at and/or current are the Director at, as well as are on the leading edge of of the national bike advocacy movement.

    As for your “unsolicited” advice comment, the expert panel was selected to speak on this topic in response to an outcry from local and national bike advocacy leaders who expressed a need and desire for suggestions on how folks within the active transportation community can work in service of anti-displacement, rather than perpetuate development strategies that have and continue to lead to rapid gentrification of immigrant, low-income communities, and communities within cities throughout the U.S., a well studied and documented trend.

    The Alliance for Biking & Walking co-hosted the call with Dr. Mike Smart of Rutgers University | Voorhees Transportation Center, a well respected researcher and intuition. With over 240 registrations for the webinar–more than we’ve ever had, our audience was comprised of entire classrooms, agency departments, and advocacy organizations, all of whom listened in/watched because the panel’s leadership and thinking is exactly what the next generation of advocates are ready for. And thank goodness for it!

  • James

    How widespread is the concern about “gentrification” outside of a handful of big cities like NYC, DC and San Francisco? Is anyone in Des Moines or Dallas or Duluth or Dayton worrying about a protected bike lane being the leading edge of a strategy to displace a low-income community?

  • Alicia

    Writing from a small Midwestern city: yes. I’ve heard lots of people complaining about the possibility of my town being gentrified because of things like bike lanes and a single luxury housing development that takes up 2 acres of land.

  • ND

    James, I, too, would say that communities in small- to mid-sized cities, where, demographically, some of the most drastic population changes/gains are currently occurring because larger cities have become rather exclusive, are experiencing a spill-over gentrification affect and are very interested in affordability and anti-displacement strategies. The growth is actively courted by agency leadership and administrators–and can be positive–provided that growth strategy ensures that the people that live in these locations: A) Can continue to afford to live there; B) Benefit from the growth, so, small businesses and local jobs are preserved, access to new jobs and job industry is created, and revenues generated go into services i.e. public education, public transportation services/improvements, to improve economic and social mobility, etc., and; C) They are engaged and respected by the City agencies and administrators as stakeholders in the processes and decisions made with regards to development and growth.

  • Marcotico

    I don’t get the blow back here. It seems whenever anyone suggests on Streetsblog “I am an ally, and I support the end goal, but I don’t feel part of the team” there is a contingent that responds, “If you’re not 100% with us right now, then you are a car loving suburbanite.” My take away from the Jeanette Sadik-Khan experiments showed you need top level political support and wide spread united support at the base, and the middle can be overcome with data and implementation. But nowhere in any of the examples is expediency part of the equations.

    I think there are plenty of examples where more equitable planning in earlier stages would have made projects more NIMBY resistant not less so, I think N. Fig, is one of them. Cedillo was able to turn bike lanes into a class issue (completely disregarding evidence) because there weren’t enough low income residents coming out and calling BS. I saw a good meme on Facebook “Privilege is saying something isn’t important, because it isn’t important to you.”

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