Let’s get one thing clear: People of color ride bikes. They commute to work on bikes. They ride for pleasure. It saves them money and time, and it keeps them healthy.
But they may not show up at the Tweed Ride or the city council hearing on bicycle infrastructure. And cycling is still a divisive issue in many cities, with some high-profile instances of community leaders charging that bike lanes are for white people, at the expense of everyone else.
Why the disconnect?
“Nobody is against safer streets in their neighborhood,” said Hamzat Sani, equity and outreach fellow at the League of American Bicyclists. Cycling organizations just haven’t done a good job communicating the message that streets that are safer for cyclists are safer for everyone.
“There’s not an explicit hate for biking among communities of color,” Sani said. “Give any kid a bike and they’re going to enjoy it. What’s a problem is when there’s a lack of engagement in the beginning of a process for putting in a bike lane, and then afterwards, a too-late outreach effort is made to smooth over the conflict that has arisen.”
About a year ago, Sani was living in Atlanta and working with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. “There weren’t a lot of cyclists of color in the Atlanta area,” he said, “or at least there weren’t a lot of visible cyclists of color out there.”
He co-founded an Atlanta chapter of Red, Bike and Green, an Oakland-based organization that builds community among people of color around bicycling. “So we launched the chapter of Red, Bike and Green as an opportunity to encourage more people of color to cycle,” Sani said, “with the idea being that if they see a group of cyclists doing it, they’d be interested in hopping on board.”
Indeed, 38 percent of African-Americans say their perception of bicyclists would improve if people on bikes represented a “broader cross section of Americans, such as women, youth and people of color” in their community.
According to a new report by the League of American Bicyclists and the Sierra Club called “The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity,” Red, Bike and Green isn’t the only grassroots group making that connection.