The Racist Dog Whistles in Complaints About Dockless Bike-Share

One commenter on a Georgetown listserv urged people to call the cops on dockless bike-share riders. Photo:
One commenter on a Georgetown listserv urged people to call the cops on dockless bike-share riders. Photo: Ep_Jhu on Flickr

The arrival of dockless bike-share is changing the cycling landscape in some American cities. Dallas, for instance, may not be known for its bikeability, but it now has thousands of public bicycles available at very low cost.

With the rapid expansion of these systems have come the inevitable complaints. Some are at least understandable — sloppily parked bikes can obstruct sidewalks. But Kristen Jeffers at Greater Greater Washington says a lot of the animosity toward dockless bike-share in D.C. is just thinly veiled racism directed at the people riding the bikes:

Dockless bikeshares seem especially popular with teenagers in DC — as a recent CityLab article pointed out, with black boys in particular. (It’s worth noting that the companies do not collect this type of demographic data about their users.) There’s been a lot of Twitter and comment speculation about whether many of these dockless bikes are stolen — though there’s no proof of that.

The Twitter and comment grumblings came to a head the other week on a Georgetown listserv, when a disgruntled resident urged neighbors to call the police to report dockless bikeshare users merely for riding down the street.

“Provide a physical description of the rider, color of the bike, direction of travel, and state the assailant suspect is ‘acting suspicious,’” the post read.

Then a Petworth ANC commissioner (ANC 4A02) released a complaint about “unsightly presence in unusual locations,” “criminal elements that result from [the bicycles’] presence and locations,” and hand-wringing over the “ease of movement/escape from watchful eyes and law enforcement” — a dog whistle if I’ve ever heard one.

More recommended reading today: KUOW says parking policy is one of Seattle’s most important tools in the fight against climate change. And the Huffington Post looks at the terrible public health impacts of the highways rammed through a historically black neighborhood in Orlando.

  • Parque_Hundido

    The fact that you do not like the outcomes of our criminal justice system is not a reason to believe that they are unjust.

  • Toddster

    Where does it say “certain types”? If you read the original resident’s post, he says he’s upset because people are leaving the bikes all over and he has an elderly neighbor who tripped on one.

    The man is not upset that there are “other” people in his neighborhood. He’s upset at what he deems junk cluttering his street.

  • Toddster

    This article is a joke. If you read the resident’s complete complaint, he’s not upset that there are strangers or “others” in his neighborhood, he’s upset that there are bikes in the sidewalk and that his elderly neighbor tripped on one and cut her head.

    He’s advocating to call 911 and mention suspicious activity because he’s upset and knows the police won’t come if you call 311 and complain about bikes.

    Is this man abusing the 911 system and overreacting to bikes? Yes.
    Is this man racist? Maybe, but there is absolutely no way to tell from his original complaint.

    I might be with you CJ. Some of these SB pieces recently are making factless assumptions that not only threaten to harm the safe streets movement but barely keep SB above the low-bar fake-news click-bait sites that seem to dominate the national discourse now. Between this piece and an earlier one by Jon Greenfield on Streetsblog Chicago that more or less advocated for cyclists right to ride without lights with impunity, my time as a faithful SB reader might be done.

  • cjstephens

    I get that this is an advocacy website, and – despite what you might think – I agree with something like 95% of what the writers here support. But being an advocate doesn’t give you the right to make stuff up, which is what she’s doing here, so, yes, #fakenews. And I (and other commenters) continue to complain about her because she makes the rest of us who want safe streets for everyone look bad.

  • cjstephens

    Did you even read the underlying article?

    I’m going to stick by my guns on this one. People use the phrase “dog whistle” when they feel deep down that someone must be trying to convey something bad but there’s zero proof of it, so they cry “racist” or whatever and run away. The language you’re referring to is more like code: if someone talks about “urban youth” or “people from [insert predominantly black neighborhood]”, sure, there’s a good chance there’s probably some racism implied. But that’s not what happened here.

    And what gives you the idea that racism doesn’t effect my daily life? What assumptions are you making about me that make you so sure?

  • bggb

    I do not like the clear and established history of the FBI. From targeting black groups to trying to convince Martin Luther King to commit suicide.

    If you see nothing wrong with the FBI’s history, especially when it comes to race, that’s your choice.

  • Guy Ross

    Please go back and revisit the definition of ‘racism’. You seem to be confused.

  • carma

    Totally agree. Angie Schmitt seems to always find race to pin into articles. Takes away the credibility of real transit issues.

  • Race is part of every issue. Denying this fact only shows one’s obliviousness.

  • Dale_Doback

    Are you just now getting hip to this? The only thing I’ve seen from this publication is race-baiting article after another. This, in all honesty, seems like a SJW rag using “transportation” as a cover. One of the mods even started deleting my comments a few weeks ago because I was calling out a racist … but since they were only being racist against whites, it was me who was “the bad guy”.

  • Dale_Doback

    I feel really, really sorry for people like you, I truly do. Let me guess, you’re probably an ultra-liberal “anti-racist” warrior, too. Aren’t you? It’s always the people who claim to “fight” racism that happen to also see race in every single thing that comes across their plate.

  • Dale_Doback

    I seriously love you types … ya know, numbers are “racist”, too. It’s NOT ‘racist’ to point out the facts of statistical analysis. Also, how you (and others on here) have the audacity to sit here and discredit these well studied data-sets is mind boggling. Who do you think is impacted most by these soaring rates of black criminality?? Who are the VAST majority of the VICTIMS of these crimes?? Let me give you a hint, it sure isn’t whites!!! When you make light of these issues, when you pass it off as some “racist conspiracy,” you’re actually doing quite a bit of harm to these disenfranchised communities (of BLACK people) who are experiencing the most pain and suffering due to these high rates of violence. If you truly cared for them and their wellbeing, you wouldn’t be sitting on your high-horse (probably living in a majority-white community) acting like there’s not a major issue on our hands right now. You’re living the very essence of the bigotries of low expectations.

  • cjstephens

    Not all of the writers on StreetsBlog fall back on empty SJW rhetoric. Mostly, it’s just Schmitt who does that, and even she doesn’t always do it (though I definitely think she is the weakest writer on the site). I still think it’s worth calling her out on it, though.


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