Invisible Cyclist Rides Again

It’s been well over a year since Julian and I conceived of and launched The Invisible Cyclist. And while our inaugural post, Origins of “The Invisible Cyclist” Blog, generated quite a bit of interest, the weeks and then months slipped away without another peep from us…until now.

Part of the reason for the silence is that we realized much of what we had hoped to achieve with The Invisible Cyclist–stimulating dialogue around the roles of the bicycle and burgeoning bicycle cultures and advocacy movements in remaking cities and their transportation systems to be just, equitable and sustainable–was already happening.

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As Magritte might say, “This is not a bike.”

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This, however, is definitely a bike.

Examples include blogs like Adonia Lugo’s Urban Adonia, with posts like “Is the Bike Movement Too Cynical for Social Justice?” Lugo is also behind the Seattle Bike Justice Project and Bicicultures, a network of scholars studying bicycling as a social and cultural phenomenon rooted in the recognition that “there are far more people using bikes now than fit into the types we associate with ‘bike culture.'”

Melody Hoffmann, a contributor to Bicicultures, also blogs at Our Bikes (and Desks) in the Middle of the Street, where she draws on her dissertation–”Our Bikes in the Middle of the Street: Community building, gentrification, and racism in urban bicycle advocacy“–to discuss bicycle culture, community, race and gentrification. In fact, the topic of bikes and gentrification gets a fair amount of attention, including the following:

For a more extensive list, see Hoffman’s “Gentrification & Bicycling Sources.”

Equity and justice in the context of bike share is another popular topic. The Surly Urbanist examines the issue in “The bikes were never about them…,” a post on Surly Urbanism. Darren Buck tackles the topic in “Bikeshare Equity Framework” at bikepedantic, and John Greenfield at GRID Chicago asks “Bike share, not white share: Can Chicago’s Program Achieve Diversity?” Additional coverage on the topic comes from Axis Philly’s Julia Bergman in “Inclusivity is a big hurdle for bike-share programs,” from Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org in “Equity concerns take center stage as bike share funding moves forward,” and from John Greenfield at Chicago Streetsblog in “CDOT Provides an Update on Efforts to Ensure Divvy System Is Equitable.”

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Learning to use Bay Area Bike Share (@BABikeShare).

Specific concerns around bike lanes and gentrification or bike share and equity are beginning to drive examination of equity and inclusion in bicycling more broadly. For example, The Case for Cycling, a joint project of Portland Transport, the Bicycle Transportation AllianceBikePortlandPortland Afoot and AROW, compiles research and arguments supporting cycling’s benefits for urban livability, health, and sustainability, including a page on “Equity and Inclusion.”

The dialogue is even spilling over into blogs not directly concerned with bicycling. Plurale Tantum, a blog about identity and urbanism, tackles the topic in “Biking Advocacy and Race: Where’s the Disconnect?” Similarly, mainstream urbanism blogs are asking questions like “Can a bicycle network alone lead to more equitable bicycle use?” (see “Transport Opportunities for All – The Potential of Bicycle Networks” at This Big City).

Perhaps most impressively, mainstream bicycle advocacy organizations, not to mention mainstream media, are engaging in the dialogue as well. Bike industry-backed advocacy group People for Bikes, as part of its Green Lane Project, organized in May 2013 a Summit on Bike Lanes & Equity. Next month’s California by Bike Summit, sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition, is organized around the theme “Mainstreaming the Bike in California” and includes a session titled “Who is mainstream? Multicultural Communities for Mobility.”

The growth and mainstreaming of the dialogue is perhaps epitomized by “The New Majority: Pedaling Towards Equity,” a “first-of-its-kind report released in May 2013 by the League [of American Bicyclists] and the Sierra Club.” Along with the report, the League of American Bicyclists rolled out its Equity Initiative, which explicitly recognizes that “youth, women and people of color are underrepresented in many bike advocacy efforts and local transportation decisions.”

Can world class bike infrastructure make motorists "invisible?"

Can world class bike infrastructure make motorists “invisible?”

All this dialogue begs the question, “So what do we do now?” Sahra Sulaiman at LA Streetsblog, unimpressed with the growing mainstream awareness of bike equity concerns, writes:

We’ve known for a while what NPR and the League of American Bicyclists appear to just be figuring out: namely, that people of color ride bikes and are doing so in ever-increasing numbers.

In fact, people of color have been on bikes for years, especially in lower-income communities. Spend a day touring South L.A. and you will see tons of folks on all kinds of bikes…

So, it is hard to find recent affirmations that people of color are indeed on bikes all that interesting. What is interesting, however, is the increasing diversity of the groups and reasons they ride, their tendency to use bicycles as a vehicle to advance unique forms of social justice, and what the growing recognition of their presence means for their ability to lobby for investment in their communities.

(see “Assessing the Momentum of the Bike Movement in South L.A., a Year and a Half On“)

Sulaiman seems to provide some possible answers to the “What next?” question. We need a better understanding of the “the increasing diversity of the groups and reasons they ride.” We need a better understanding of how these groups “use bicycles as a vehicle to advance unique forms of social justice.” And we need to explore “what the growing recognition of their presence means for their ability to lobby for investment in their communities.”

We hope that its resurrection might attract to the Invisible Cyclist the bloggers, thinkers, activists, advocates, planners and others who have long known what NPR and the League of American Cyclists are just discovering–that people of color ride bikes and that they are mobilizing to demand visibility and equity. With their involvement, the Invisible Cyclist can become a place where we can continue documenting the diversity of bicyclists and the bike advocacy movement, but perhaps more importantly, also engage critically around questions of how to grow the movement’s diversity; build bridges with the mainstream movement, municipal governments, urban planners and others; and design equity and social justice into the emerging bicycle infrastructure in cities around the world.

6 thoughts on “Invisible Cyclist Rides Again

  1. I’ve been digging into the ethnicities of bike commuters of several cities and have challenged California bicycle advocacy groups to examine their membership vs the populations they serve.

    http://www.cyclelicio.us/2013/bicycling-for-white-people/

    San Jose, for example, is roughly 30% non-latino Caucasion, 30% Latino, and 30% Asian. Our local bike coalition is overwhelmingly white. Census ACS data shows 50% of commuters are white, 40% are Latino, and fewer than 10% are Asian.

  2. Thanks for posting a pic of Albany, CA’s new Buchanan St bike/ped crossing and path to reference “world class bike infrastructure”. There’s a lot more plans for all-ages facilities like this underway around the East Bay: http://www.ebbc.org/cycletrack

    It’s also slightly worth noting that in California the vehicle code prohibits bicycles with handlebars above the operators shoulders, as shown in the second photo. That part of the code is of dubious necessity, in my opinion, but it is in there.

  3. The rising awareness that people of color ride bikes (have already been riding bikes, and will continue to ride bikes) should nip the whole “bike lanes cause gentrification” argument in the bud. We’ve seen that dubious argument here in Portland (specifically regarding safety improvements to North Williams Street). The idea that we should keep majority black neighborhoods unsafe so that white people won’t move in is clearly absurd. Instead, cities should work to make all neighborhoods safer.

  4. Pingback: Asking tough questions about race, class, privilege, and sustainable cities | Invisible Cyclist

  5. Pingback: Retrofitting Equity and Justice? | Invisible Cyclist

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