Reimagining the (Bike) Path Forward: A Journey Toward Mobility Justice and Equity

A letter from the desk of Ari Belathar, Executive Director

Mobility justice for me has never been just about bike lanes, affordable public transit, or sustainable transportation; it has always been about freedom of movement.

When I was in my early twenties, I was forced to flee my home country due to the political persecution and repression I faced as a student activist and independent journalist.

Without any other choice, I escaped to Canada as a refugee. When I arrived in Toronto, I didn’t have a passport, I didn’t know anybody in the entire country, and I didn’t speak English… all I had was four dollars to my name.

A few days after my arrival, and by pure chance, I met a refugee from El Salvador who had been in Toronto for decades, an older gay man named Nestor.

Photo: Ari poses in front of their bike, loaded with bikepacking gear. They are wearing a sun hat and bandanna.

Nestor understood what I was going through because he had gone through something similar years earlier. After our brief encounter, Nestor offered me a hundred dollars. I didn’t want to accept his money. I couldn’t, and at the same time, I needed it. I desperately needed it. So I accepted the gift and will never forget Nestor’s generosity.

At that moment I needed everything you could imagine. I was living in a homeless shelter and could have used that money for any number of essentials. Instead, I bought a used bicycle because what I needed the most at that time was to regain a sense of freedom. I’ve known the joy of riding a bicycle since I was a little child and I knew that if I were going to make Toronto my new home, a bicycle would open up the entire city and new possibilities for me.

Years later, my academic pursuits brought me to Boston and this wonderful city, with its convoluted streets, has felt like home ever since.

I have been a bicycle advocate in every city I lived – from Mexico City where I grew up to Toronto, Chicago, and Boston.

When I think about mobility justice in the context of a place like Greater Boston, it is clear to me that each of us experiences the streets differently. Race, gender, and class – the color of your skin, your gender expression, and the amount of money in your bank account – directly impact how you experience the city and the freedom you have to move through it.

Mobility is access and advocating for a citywide protected bike lane network is advocating for a more equitable city.

Our journey toward mobility justice requires a commitment to equity, acknowledging that all people are not treated the same in public spaces, nor are all people allowed to participate in the creation of public spaces in the same way. While it is important to celebrate the great progress Boston has made in the past decade in terms of bicycle infrastructure, it is just as important to recognize that we still have a long way to go.

The Boston Cyclists Union has been at the front and center of the bicycle advocacy movement since 2011. With the dedication and support of our members, partners, and funders we have been able to lead the conversation and push the agenda forward. Working with fellow advocates and city officials, we have worked to actualize the creation of bike lanes all across the city, and we continue to fight fiercely to demand safer and more connected bicycle infrastructure. However, despite our best intentions, we have fallen short in ensuring equal representation, access, and participation in our movement.

As a people-powered organization, we must intentionally center the narratives and experiences of underrepresented bicyclists, such as BIPOC folks, women, trans and queer people, youth, immigrants, and working-class bicyclists.

Using an equity lens, we can understand that the intersection of identity and oppression has led to profound mobility injustices. Nationally, Black bicyclists are over four times more likely to be killed while riding than their white counterparts on a per-mile basis. In New York City, approximately 82% of bike citations in 2019 were issued to Black and Latinx people, even though they represented less than half of the bicyclist population. In the past few years, Chicago police issued sidewalk cycling tickets more frequently in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, even as the total number of tickets issued overall decreased.

Boston is not an exception to these injustices. Our streets are not ahistorical or apolitical. To transcend these systems of oppression, the Boston Cyclists Union must actively commit to mobility justice through equity.

Mobility is access and advocating for a citywide protected bike lane network is advocating for a more equitable city.

To achieve this, we have to center the lived experiences of those traditionally left out of cycling discussions. We should ensure that underrepresented bicyclists have a place at our table because whoever is involved in the discussion changes the questions, and when we change the questions, we change the answers and arrive at new solutions.

We ask you to join us in this commitment to transform our movement and help the Boston Cyclists Union become a fully inclusive organization that invites every body who rides a bicycle in Greater Boston to see themselves and participate in what we do. To achieve this, we have to move with intentionality and create space for critical reflection, allowing us the opportunity to reimagine what we think is possible and move forward with loving accountability and solidarity, centering justice and joy for every body.

And when we say every body, we mean every body… the casual riders, the daily bike commuters, the parents hauling their kids on high-tech e-bikes, the bike-share users, the year-round riders who brave any kind of weather, the folks closing the last mile on their T or bus routes, the Strava enthusiasts in lycra, the bicyclists dragging a trailer packed with kids, pets, and/or groceries, the children and adults learning to ride a bicycle for the first time, and the bicycle workforce delivering meals and groceries and providing fun rides across town in pedicabs.

The vision is clear: until every body in Boston has the freedom and resources to move safely through our streets and public spaces, we have work to do. Will you join us?

Ari Belathar, Executive Director

December is a crucial month for our fundraising, and all donors this month will earn a chance to win an e-bike.

Donate any amount before midnight on 12/31/23 and enter our win-a-bike giveaway!

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