Who Bikes Boston? Claiming Your Identity in Boston's Bike Culture.

NOTE: This is the first of six guest blog posts with reflections on Boston’s first Neighborhood Bike Forum. The forum was held on April 29th in Dudley Square, Roxbury. It was sponsored by Let’s Get Healthy, Boston! a partnership between The Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Alliance for Community Health, together with Boston Cyclists Union, Transportation for MA, Mattapan Food & Fitness Coalition, Roxbury in Motion and the Boston Project Ministries. 128 people attended this four hour event.

In addition to “Who Bikes Boston,” conversations and panel discussions were held around neighborhood bike rides, tips and success stories on engaging in advocacy, how to bike safely and defensively without ideal infrastructure, youth and biking, and bikes and entrepreneurism. You can watch videos of some of the panel discussions on periscope by clicking the links, recorded and posted by Marc Ebuña of Transit Matters.

Join the conversation #ibikeBOS #bikeyourhood. 


 

Who Bikes Boston? Claiming Your Identity in Boston’s Bike Culture.  Thoughts and Reflections on the panel discussion.

By: Angela Johnson, Program Associate, Transportation for MA, Panel Facilitator; Boston Cyclists Union Board Member

Who Bikes Boston

Bike culture and identity can be a dicey subject. But it was important to make it center stage at the Boston Neighborhood Bike Forum.

In the U.S., “bikers” are on motorcycles and “cyclists” ride very expensive racing bikes. “People who bike” was conjured up as a way to describe the people in the middle — those of us who are just on a bike, for any reason. Indeed, there’s power in using this phrase, as popular perception has given the previous labels specific definitions, but I’ve always questioned why “cyclist” had to be so narrow in definition in the first place.

Now, let’s add race and ethnicity to the conversation.

Racing cyclists are often perceived to be white, male, athletic, and of higher socioeconomic status. In reality, in regards to people who bike, they’re the minority. The average person on a bike is Latino, male, and working class. Yet, unless he is suited in Lycra, he is a bike commuter, a person who bikes, or an “Invisible Cyclist”, depending on both his socioeconomic and immigration status.

The primary goal of the “Who Bikes Boston” panel was to give an opportunity for residents of color to share their experiences biking in the city, and in a setting specifically conceived for us. The secondary goal was to debate who gets to be called a cyclist. But the underlying goal was to push back against this idea that folks of color, especially Black people, don’t bike. Because we do.

From my own experience as an Afro-Latina, a cyclist, and as a transportation advocate, biking in Boston does feel quite white. For some, this perception can lead to feeling alienated in present bike spaces that associate bikes with a certain race and socioeconomic status. So, it was very important that the panel feature both speakers of color and a facilitator of color in order to foster trust. Michelle Cook, founder of Roxbury Rides, Peter Cheung, bike advocate and Boston Bike Party, and Farah Wong, Allston-Brighton Healthy Community Champion and Hubway user, each shared their unique experiences on Boston’s streets.

During the panel, we tackled subjects relating to identity and why we choose to bike. On the topic of being a cyclist, some audience members preferred to identify as “people who bike,” as they felt it was more encompassing than cyclist. Some liked cyclist, despite not being into racing — nor even owning a road bike.

What was most interesting was the fact that a few pondered on whether or not they wanted a moniker at all. Farah Wong noted that until I asked [if she called herself a cyclist], she never thought about biking being a part of her identity. For her, and for many people not just at the forum, but in general, a bike is just a way to get around.

Other viewpoints shared in the panel included a mother who was teaching herself to ride a bike because her nine-year son was becoming increasingly independent and was interested in riding on his own. She saw gaining this new skill as a bonding experience.

An older woman, translated from Spanish by her daughter, said that she bikes everywhere — rain or shine. A pre-teen boy said that he liked to bike for fun, especially with his friends after school. Another boy said that his West Indian parents are accepting of biking back home, but not in Boston. Here, they believe it is too dangerous. Another older woman, and known bike advocate, exposed gratitude for a discussion centered on biking as people of color, like herself.

An adult Black male and youth advocate posed a question of whom bike infrastructure in Boston was meant for. He noted that other neighborhoods, like Jamaica Plain, Allston, and Back Bay, always received substantial infrastructural improvements before Dorchester, where he grew up. While he does like having bike lanes in his neighborhood, he is admitted to still feeling wary of the City. He feels that there’s tension in his neighborhood now with bike infrastructure being proposed and what this will mean for housing affordability and for the culture of his immediate community.

The lack of time didn’t allow for an answer, but it also was not the kind of question that could be answered immediately. Bike infrastructure should be for anyone who wants to use it. Bike lanes are not being striped solely for newcomers, but for neighborhood residents who are already biking or, like the mother and her son, want to learn how to bike safely. Yet, the perception of who bikes and what a cyclist looks like remains.

My hope with both the Boston Neighborhood Bike Forum, and the Who Bikes Boston panel in particular are that these conversations will continue. When the planning team started out, our end goal was to not have the forum be a one-off event, nor just an annual conference. Bike spaces are often white spaces and intentionally creating a place for people of color in Boston, and eventually beyond, to speak openly and honestly about biking in this city will improve communication with active transportation advocates, shatter stereotypes, and create a community for those who need it.

Finally, biking, like other forms of transportation, intersects many groups in different, yet sometimes interconnecting ways:

Like biking as a Black or Latino male and being afraid that you’ll be racially profiled.

Like biking as a woman and whizzing past loud catcalls.

Like biking as a queer person and choosing to do so because it keeps the public from being able to quickly discern your gender or sexual orientation.

Like biking as an undocumented resident and wanting to stay as out of sight as possible.

Ask yourself: how does biking fit into your life as a resident of your community?

 

Resources

Bicycle Justice and Urban Transformation: Biking for all? (currently out of stock & quite expensive. If interested in specific chapters, reach out to the authors and they’ll send you a copy!)

The New Movement: Bike Equity Today

The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity

Rethinking Term: “Invisible Cyclist”

Bike Lanes in Black and White

Silent barriers to bicycling, part I: Exploring Black and Latino bicycling experiences (II, III, and IV are below)

2015 Boston Bike Counts

 

Forward Thinkers on not just bikes, but race + active transportation, advocacy, and right to the city

Dr. Julian Agyeman @julianagyeman http://julianagyeman.com/ 

Dr. Adonia Lugo @urbanadonia http://www.urbanadonia.com/p/about_22.html

Dr. Stephen Zavestoski @smzavestoski

Tamika Bulter @TamikaButler

Do Lee @dosik

Sahra Sulaiman @sahrasulaiman http://la.streetsblog.org/author/sahra/

 

(This post was originally posted on the Boston Public Health Commission website)

A month of bike advocacy: from Make Way for Bike Lanes to the Ride for Ricky & Transportation Department Budget Hearing

 

Last month, nearly 300 people with bicycles gathered in Copley Square on a Sunday afternoon. After a short rally on the steps of Trinity Church, they pedalled down Boylston Street towards the Public Garden, a park surrounded by 4-lane, one-way roads that at times function more like highways than like city streets.

For an hour and a half these intrepid cyclists rode laps around the Public Garden with the goal of demonstrating that the roads are wide enough to not only carry the motor-vehicle traffic that uses them, but are also wide enough to accommodate parking-protected bike lanes, without a significant impact on traffic. The message was clear: it’s time for the City to make way for bike lanes.

The press, always searching for a good story, picked up our event and coverage of it appeared in the evening news and local papers. The event even elicited a response from the Mayor’s office.

Unfortunately, two weeks after calling attention to the over-built streets of the Back Bay, that are frequently the sites of drag racing and excessive speeding, a speeding car on Commonwealth Ave struck and killed Rick Archer while he was riding with a friend.

Rick’s friends quickly mobilized a ghost bike memorial, to be installed at the scene of the fatal crash on the same day that the Boston City Council held a budget hearing for the Transportation Department. Following the ghost bike dedication, almost 300 people rode to City Hall and filled the City Council chamber to capacity, forcing the City to open up TWO overflow rooms to accommodate everyone. After passionate pleas by City Councilors to the Transportation Department to do more to end traffic fatalities, dozens of Rick’s friends and advocates testified to the Council about the need to act far more quickly than is planned in order to prevent more serious injuries and fatalities on our streets.

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Photo credit: Jeff Dietrich

In the month leading up to this hearing, we called upon you to send letters and call the Mayor’s office and ask him to allocate more funding for Vision Zero. Those calls and emails, combined with the rides and the overwhelming show of support at the Transportation Department hearing, convinced the Mayor to take action.

Last week it was announced that the Vision Zero budget would be increased by 33%, from $3 to $4 million, with the additional funding going directly to the Neighborhood Slow Streets (NSS) Program. That funding will allow the City to implement the NSS Program in 5, rather than 2, neighborhoods next year.

This is a win worth celebrating. Our advocacy is working. The Mayor and our City Councilors are hearing us and taking action. While the $1 million is far short of what we’ve been asking of the Mayor, it’s a step in the right direction, and one that will have a measurable impact in our neighborhoods.

Our work is far from over, as the Mayor recently demonstrated on a radio show where he told people walking and biking to pay more attention in order to reduce traffic crashes, when we know the majority of crashes that are taking place are caused by speeding and distracted driving, but that won’t stop us from continuing to work to make Boston a truly world-class biking city, where traffic fatalities are a thing of the past.

We’re all in this together, and we will continue to call upon you to take action. Together we will transform our streets so that anyone, from a 8-year old to an 80-year old, is safe biking from home to work, school or anywhere they need to go.

Letter from the Vision Zero Coalition to Mayor Walsh

On May 16th, 2017, City of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was interviewed on WGBH radio. In the wake of the recent fatal hit-and-run crash that killed Rick Archer on Comm Ave and an uptick in pedestrian fatalities in Boston and nationwide, Mayor Walsh urged people who walk and bike in the city to take more personal responsibility. Mayor Walsh said that residents were placing too much blame on his administration to solve the problem. 

We were extremely disappointed to hear this rhetoric from the Mayor, and sent the following letter, with the entire Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition, to the Mayor in response to his comments. 

If you would like to respond personally to the Mayor, please contact the Mayor’s office. Vision Zero is about designing streets that can account for human error, not blaming the most vulnerable road users. #VisionZero #StreetsAreForPeople #CrashNotAccident


May 17, 2017

Mayor Martin Walsh
City Hall
Boston, MA  02201

Re: Vision Zero

Dear Mayor Walsh:

When you announced the Vision Zero Action Plan in December 2015, we were proud to be your constituents. You demonstrated leadership when you stated:

“We know how to build safer streets. We know how to protect our most vulnerable road users, who are suffering disproportionately because of speeding traffic and distracted drivers. With this Action Plan, I am saying it’s time to act. It’s time to commit to eliminating fatal and serious traffic crashes from our daily experience.”

Which is why we were dismayed by your comments Wednesday afternoon on WGBH Radio.

On behalf of the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition we invite you to work with us to fully fund and implement Vision Zero in Boston. We ask that you join us on Friday morning at 8 AM for a moment of silence for victims of traffic violence on City Hall Plaza. On behalf of those victims, we also ask that you apologize for the comments you made on the air.

Our streets are in crisis. Continue reading LETTER TO THE MAYOR

Another preventable tragedy: It's time to act.

Dear members and friends,Ride in Peace Rick

As many of you know, one week ago, we lost a member of our community. While riding home through the Back Bay, Rick Archer, 29, was struck by a car recklessly speeding down Comm Ave.  From all accounts, Rick was a thoughtful, creative, caring person whose early departure has left a large hole with his family and friends and the courier community in Boston.  The entire community feels this loss – yet another preventable death in Boston.

On Friday, friends of Rick’s called a meeting and invited others from the bike community to gather to talk about how to take this tragic loss and turn it into something productive.  As an activist and advocate himself, and someone whose identity was closely tied to biking, those close to him felt that advocacy for making our streets safer for biking was what Rick would have wanted us all to do in his memory.

The outcome is an action this week that we invite you all to participate ina ghost bike ceremony on Wednesday May 10th, followed by a mass ride over to City Hall to join the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) Budget hearing.

The annual budget hearings are significant because the City Council will be analyzing the FY18 budgets that the departments and Mayor have proposed, asking questions, and trying to figure out if it is enough funding to accomplish what needs to be done to achieve vision zero and make our streets safer for biking and walking.  It is not, and we have been saying this for months.  The budget hearing on Wednesday is a place for all of us to make a statement loud and clear, to Mayor Walsh and the City Council, that he is not doing enough to change our streets and make them safer for people to bike and walk.  The Mayor is not backing his vocalized commitment to Vision Zero with action, and we invite you ALL to join us in delivering this message on Wednesday.

We, and the City, know that speeding is rampant in the Back Bay.  There was a drag racing incident on Beacon Street in the Back Bay just over a year ago, in March of 2016, where one of the racing cars mounted the sidewalk, hit a tree, a fence and a person on the sidewalk and the car’s operator got in another car and drove away. Two people were also hit and killed while walking along the sidewalk on Beacon Street as a result of a crash involving a speeding vehicle, in June of 2014. While reckless driving is an individual choice made by the drivers in these cases, the way the streets in the Back Bay are designed contribute to these crashes by allowing reckless drivers to reach speeds that are double, or even triple the posted speed limit.

Changing these streets requires commitment, financially and politically, from the City and Mayor Walsh. We need to make it clear that his constituents want these changes to be made now.

The ghost bike ceremony will take place on Wednesday at Comm Ave and Clarendon from about 5:30-6:30pm and then we’ll all ride over to City Hall together. We’ll arrive in the middle of the hearing, by about 7pm, though the hearing will have started at 6pm. Anyone is welcome to simply go straight to City Hall for the hearing at or after 6pm as well.

Here is an important detail about our late arrival to the hearing: our entrance and disruption won’t be a loud one.  Having a silent and somber interruption and flooding the room with hundreds of people will be the disruption itself.  We invite you to wear black as a demonstration of mourning.

We shouldn’t have to wait for people to die to see changes made to our streets, but I have hope that our actions on Wednesday will push the City and the Mayor to take action. Please join us on Wednesday to call on Boston’s leadership to make the investment necessary to achieve Vision Zero.

In solidarity,
Becca Wolfson
Executive Director

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