Millennials in Boston care a lot about public transit and bike share. This is to the exclusion of cars. They are riding the crest of a wave of common sense. Their views are having an impact on city planning and residential development. They are the future. They are the young, often white residents who took to the streets in support of the idea that Black Lives Matter. But are they tone-deaf to how those outside of their particular culture see bike lanes and cycling generally? Could that have a bad impact of the expansion of cycling infrastructure? The extending of canoe share to existing bike share members would seem to be focused on people whose parents taught them how to canoe because they knew how to canoe themselves. This too looks like a smart, forward leaning partnership. But into every future, there arrives a past. Sometimes it's a past that no longer serves a purpose.
No place is the focus on the past more acute than in Washington, DC right now, where bike lanes have become synonymous with white gentrification, as mostly older African American residents want to prevent the placement of bike lanes in front of a church they use perhaps twice a week, and to which they mostly drive from the suburbs. This was not the first such meeting. The conversation has become a stream of subtext and nonsense, where older folks balk at the suggestion they ride public transit in lieu of parking and driving. In the minds of these older Washingtonians, mass transit is for those who have not achieved a place in society where they can afford to drive. And this crowd was not the most able-bodied to be fair. Perhaps in about 1975 the idea that Metro was somehow a lesser transit mode would've been true. To take a Metro bus then meant you could not get there in your own car. The bus system was the transit medium of kitchen staff, not educated city government workers. So somehow, through a process of illogic, bike lanes are opposed under the erroneous belief that they will cause church goers to have to park further from church or relegate worshippers to mass transit. This opposition sadly comes from a community that is disproportionately impacted by Type 2 diabetes and other diseases related to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. The community leaders who could help to educate those opposing bike lanes have instead largely tried to pander to this opposition. The terrible and longterm result may be no or fewer bike lanes in neighborhoods that need them. Once again, whole swathes of this city will be left behind on important transportation progress, just as they were when the Metrorail system was built. Kaboom, flash. We are back 30 years ago or more, having conversations about things that will hurt the next generation. Where is a hero when you need one?
In rooting around for a hero, someone who could come in and change the tone of the conversation about cycling, I happened to find one in the person of #LisaNutter, graduate of the Wharton School, cycling advocate, African American woman, and wife of Philadelphia's mayor. She is a competitive cyclist who has tried to bring safe cycling to all neighborhoods. Her particular platform involves - pause - expanding bike lanes, including into underserved neighborhoods. She has not ever talked of how these lanes would hurt African American neighborhoods as far as I know. Quite the opposite. I cannot imagine exactly how she would have handled the meeting with the hostile, fearful church group, but I bet she would have been a powerful influence in favor of bike lanes. Read this short but sweet piece on Lisa Nutter in Bicycling Magazine this week.
Failing to build sustainable cycling infrastructure will not address our continued national obesity. Most of those opposing the bike lanes were women. And obesity is still terribly high in the United States. Would it surprise you to learn that women are the most obese?
So, if you see you in the bike lane, and you are African American, Armenian American, or Asian American, or not, and you know that your presence is not taking anything from anyone at all, let's be smug,