Fastest growth in bicycling is among minority populations: Poor and black ‘invisible cyclists’ need to be part of post-pandemic transport planning too

Safety is different for different people, and should be defined by those most economically and legally vulnerable. Prioritize people over profit, property or placemaking.

For too long, dominant narratives in mobility advocacy have drawn from the experiences of the most privileged.In advocacy spaces, questions of equity are often treated as an afterthought or sidebar. Advocates “from diverse backgrounds” are often invited to the table to speak on behalf of an “underserved” population. While our own personal experiences or those of the people we represent are generally welcomed as anecdotal insight or emotional touchstones, that input is often set aside if it challenges the mainstream agenda.

The Untokening centers the lived experiences of people, particularly leaders from marginalized identities as well as leaders who are actively engaging, organizing and advocating alongside people within marginalized communities, to address mobility justice and equity. We aim to develop networks, trainings, and resources that support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) movement leaders who want to bring their lived experiences within marginalized communities into their professional work.

Safety is different for different people, and should be defined by those most economically and legally vulnerable. Prioritize people over profit, property or placemaking. Segregation and gentrification provide economic benefits to privileged populations, both historically and today. They define what counts as development, while those who bear the hidden costs are overruled or silenced through displacement. Those reaping the financial, cultural, and infrastructural benefits of gentrification are complicit in perpetuating oppression.

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  • Untokening 1.0 — Principles of Mobility Justice Justice-oriented advocates are generally denied the opportunity to bring their whole selves to a space and are more likely to be tokenized — forced to pick their battles, to speak within a constrained set of categories, to suffer outright dismissal for straying too far from those categories, and to serve as stand-ins for the entirety of the diverse communities they represent. These principles were drafted using perspectives gathered at “The Untokening: A Convening for Just Streets & Communities” held in Atlanta, GA on November 13, 2016. Instead of offering ready-made solutions, these principles outline recommendations for mobility justice that are rooted in the liberation of historically marginalized communities.  Each “principle” is broken into three parts: Problem: We challenge the current paradigm by illuminating the range of barriers to mobility access that have long plagued marginalized communities. Principle: We offer a new vision that lays the foundation necessary to pursue mobility justice.  Practice: We suggest approaches that can help justice advocates work toward that alternative paradigm, either in white-centered planning spaces or in their own work in marginalized communities. We affirm that the Principles of Mobility Justice comprise a living document that will change and evolve over time as our challenges and community priorities shift.  Click here to download the PDF. 

By Julian Agyeman, Streetsblog, May 29, 2020 Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on The Conversation and is republished here with permission from the author.

The National Association of City Transport Officials reports an “explosion in cycling” in many U.S. cities. Bike stores are selling out, and global supply chains are struggling to meet demand. But the post-pandemic ride will be more bumpy for some.

Low-income and minority groups are often more reliant on cheaper modes of travel such as cycling. Back in 2013, the League of American Bicyclists reported that “the fastest growth in bicycling is among the Hispanic, African American and Asian American populations.” Yet these groups may find cycling to work more problematic.

As a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning, I believe it critical that city planners, lawmakers and bike advocates fully understand how barriers to cycling faced by people living in poorer neighborhoods are interconnected. Design-related, infrastructural challenges, such as providing more bike lanes, or better still, protected bike lanes – paths separated from both road and sidewalk – are important. But the more fundamental barriers are political, cultural and economic in nature. Failure to acknowledge and act accordingly, risks compromising the ability of low-income and minority groups to enjoy the full benefits of cycling.

Not reflected

One crucial barrier relates to the increasingly used political concept of “recognition” – acknowledging and respecting another human, their status and rights. This is the foundation of the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements.

Yet as urban planning scholar Aaron Golub and colleagues explain in “Bicycle Justice and Urban Transformation: Biking for All?” city planner counts of cyclists in any given area may provide data on usage, which guides decisions on where to install bike lanes, but seldom is the race, ethnicity or gender of the rider recorded. Furthermore, cycle counts typically take place in downtown areas, not in a city’s peripheral areas where, in large part due to gentrification and displacement, many low-income and minority groups may be cycling. This results in cyclists in poorer areas being underreported in official data.

As bike lanes are put where urban planners demonstrate need, this skewing of data has real-world consequences. It is part of the reason why bike lanes are mockingly referred to as “white lanes” by critics of gentrification – controversial and disputed symbols of displacement.

This, together with the whiteness of the bike advocacy community, can act as a major barrier to people of color. In a 2019 study by Tufts University students for the Boston Cyclists Union, one interviewee said that people of color see cycling as “something that white people do” and that they are simply not represented in Boston’s biking culture, or many other U.S. cities. This poses as much a challenge as infrastructure because it speaks to deep-seated perceptions of who should, or should not, be cycling. Bluntly put, there is a population of cyclists of color in the U.S., who are largely unrecognized, underreported and unrepresented. Bike advocates call them “invisible cyclists.”

Cycling while black

Cyclists of color tend to miss the eye of city planners, but the same can’t be said of the law. Relations with the police can and do affect their daily spatial and cycling practices, governing where and how they ride. Of particular concern is the issue of racial profiling and harassment of cyclists.

A study of bike citations in Chicago, revealed that between Jan. 1 and Sept. 22 of 2017, 321 tickets were issued in the majority African American, low-income area of Austin, compared with five in the nearby white, wealthy neighborhood of Lincoln Park. Similarly, a 2015 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times found that 80% of the 2,504 bike citations issued by the Tampa Bay Police Department were issued to black bikers, despite black people making up just 25% of the city’s population. This phenomenon of “biking while black” not only affects those who may want to cycle to work but those whose job depends on cycling, like food delivery workers.

Physical safety concerns are often considered to be one of the most significant barriers to cycling. Here too the burden of injury and risk is wildly disproportionate. Latino cyclists face fatality rates 23% higher than whites, and for African Americans, they are 30% higher. In these communities, some, or all of the following hazards are more prevalent: higher vehicular traffic volumes, trucking routes, major arterial roads, intersections that are unsafe or impassable by foot or bike, and an overall lower level and quality of walking and cycling infrastructure. Contributing to such safety-related issues is the well-established, disproportionate exposure experienced by low-income and minority communities to air pollution. ( through proximity analysis, found that people living near (within specified distance buffers) noxious land uses were up to 66 percent more likely to be hospitalized for asthma, and were 30 percent more likely to be poor and 13 percent more likely to be a minority than those outside the buffers. )

Pedal power

The push to eliminate traffic fatalities, known to planners as “Vision Zero” is based on the five E’s: engineering, education, enforcement, engagement and evaluation. However, some cities, such as Austin, Texas, are now adding a sixth E: equity, in recognition of the fact that nearly a third of the most dangerous road segments are in areas where more than 25% of the population is black or Hispanic and nearly two-thirds of pedestrian fatalities occur in parts of Austin where more than 30% of residents are living in poverty.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of minority-organized bike groups such as Black Girls Do Bike and for-profit bike businesses such as Bike and Brunch Tours are working to overcome barriers to cycling. Across the U.S., several advocacy organizations and bike share programs such as New Orleans’ Bike Easy and Nice Ride in Minneapolis are making progress toward bike equity in their communities. Uniting these efforts are groups like Untokening, a multiracial collective that centers the lived experiences of marginalized communities to address mobility justice and equity.

The primacy of recognition in overcoming barriers to minority cyclists cannot be overstated. As cities reimagine their streets in a post-pandemic world, politicians, city planners and bike advocates could better recognize that cyclists have differing status, rights, needs and capabilities depending on their social and racial background. Representation is also critical. The huge growth in cyclists of color is not mirrored in city decision making and bike advocacy circles. As part of any reimagining of how best people can move around their cities, people of color in lower income areas ravaged by the coronavirus could be placed front and center as we look for cheaper, more healthy ways for all to get to work.

Julian Agyeman is a Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. Find Julian on Twitter at @JulianAgyeman.


Choosing an All Ages & Abilities Bicycle Facility

Choosing an All Ages & Abilities Bicycle Facility

This chart provides guidance in choosing a bikeway design that can create an All Ages & Abilities bicycling environment, based on a street’s basic design and motor vehicle traffic conditions such as vehicle speed and volume. This chart should be applied as part of a flexible, results-oriented design process on each street, alongside robust analysis of local bicycling conditions as discussed in the remainder of this document.

Users of this guidance should recognize that, in some cases, a bicycle facility may fall short of the All Ages & Abilities criteria but still substantively reduce traffic stress. Jurisdictions should not use an inability to meet the All Ages & Abilities criteria as reason to avoid implementing a bikeway, and should not prohibit the construction of facilities that do not meet the criteria.

Contextual Guidance for Selecting All Ages & Abilities Bikeways

Roadway ContextAll Ages & Abilities Bicycle Facility
Target Motor Vehicle Speed*Target Motor Vehicle Volume (ADT)Motor Vehicle LanesKey Operational Considerations
AnyAnyAny of the following: high curbside activity, frequent buses, motor vehicle congestion, or turning conflictsProtected Bicycle Lane
< 10 mphLess relevantNo centerline, or single lane one-wayPedestrians share the roadwayShared Street
≤ 20 mph≤ 1,000 – 2,000< 50 motor vehicles per hour in the peak direction at peak hourBicycle Boulevard
≤ 25 mph≤ 500 – 1,500
≤ 1,500 – 3,000Single lane each direction, or single lane one-wayLow curbside activity, or low congestion pressureConventional or Buffered Bicycle Lane, or Protected Bicycle Lane
≤ 3,000 – 6,000Buffered or Protected Bicycle Lane
Greater than 6,000Protected Bicycle Lane
AnyMultiple lanes per direction
Greater than 26 mph≤ 6,000Single lane each directionLow curbside activity, or low congestion pressureProtected Bicycle Lane, or Reduce Speed
Multiple lanes per directionProtected Bicycle Lane, or Reduce to Single Lane & Reduce Speed
Greater than 6,000AnyAnyProtected Bicycle Lane
High-speed limited access roadways, natural corridors, or geographic edge conditions with limited conflictsAnyHigh pedestrian volumeBike Path with Separate Walkway or Protected Bicycle Lane
Low pedestrian volumeShared-Use Path or
Protected Bicycle Lane

While posted or 85th percentile motor vehicle speed are commonly used design speed targets, 95th percentile speed captures high-end speeding, which causes greater stress to bicyclists and more frequent passing events. Setting target speed based on this threshold results in a higher level of bicycling comfort for the full range of riders.

† Setting 25 mph as a motor vehicle speed threshold for providing protected bikeways is consistent with many cities’ traffic safety and Vision Zero policies. However, some cities use a 30 mph posted speed as a threshold for protected bikeways, consistent with providing Level of Traffic Stress level 2 (LTS 2) that can effectively reduce stress and accommodate more types of riders.

‡ Operational factors that lead to bikeway conflicts are reasons to provide protected bike lanes regardless of motor vehicle speed and volume.Who is the “All Ages & Abilities” User?The All Ages & Abilities Design Toolbox