Sunday, April 30, 2017

Vision Zero Blind to Racism

I’ve been uneasy about Vision Zero initiatives since the first policy was adopted in Sweden in the late ‘90s. A government policy that mandates zero traffic deaths creates a system that supports corrupt and brutal tactics in order to reach such a drastic goal.

My initial concern was that Vision Zero is the perfect backdrop for mandating bicycle helmets, even though bike helmets offer little if any protection in crashes. Such laws do immeasurable damage to bicycle advocacy by creating a barrier to bicycling, blaming the victims in crashes, and making bicycling seem far more dangerous than it is.

But until a few days ago, I had not associated my unease over Vision Zero with racism and enabling police brutality. Thanks to this article (pasted below) from Neighborhood Bike Works in Philadelphia, my concern over Vision Zero has more than doubled.

I clicked on the Vision Zero link in the article, then the action plan for Philadelphia to find that the term “enforcement” is used 34 times in as many pages. Not a good sign. In communities where people care about each other, enforcement must be the lowest priority.

Read through the article and if you have further ideas and other concerns about Vision Zero, please offer them in the comments section. And if you live in Philadelphia, be sure to take the survey linked on that Vision Zero page.

Sue

No Racism on Safe Streets
 
Racism and its sinister effects are everywhere – the streets included. At Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) we’ve recognized that the roadways (and elsewhere) must be for everyone and that the long history of creating streets safe only for well-off, white people shouldn’t follow us forward anymore. In the effort for safe streets and the newer attempt to eliminate all traffic deaths (an effort called Vision Zero), we must scrutinize the offered solutions to ensure that they protect the most vulnerable road users. This is a challenge with Vision Zero, however, since erratic enforcement of traffic and other laws further endanger vulnerable road users, especially people of color.

As Paul Hetznecker, a Philadelphia civil rights attorney pointed out to PlanPhilly, “traffic stops have been used as pretexts for unconstitutional search and seizure.” This means that even as we work to make streets safer and to eliminate traffic deaths, we must remember that speed cameras, police presence, and other increased enforcement measures can result in targeting and surveilling people of color on city streets.  At NBW, we’ve seen that police presence intimidate and harm NBW youth, program alumni, and other members of our close community.  At times NBW youth graduates have been accused of stealing bikes they’ve earned at NBW. Officers have assumed that a black youth in Philadelphia couldn’t rightfully own a high quality bike. This has happened more than once, at more than one NBW site. Again and again, we’ve heard those in the NBW community share violent, terrifying stories of police brutality on city streets. One effect of this inequitable, increased enforcement is that people, including those in our NBW community, sometimes choose to stay at home, instead of joining in programs or activities. Sometimes the trip just isn’t worth the outsized risk of being pulled over or harassed on the street, seemingly at random.

We’re encouraged that in Philadelphia, bike advocates have acknowledged the risks inherent in stepped up traffic enforcement in communities of color. Furthermore, red light camera bills have civil liberties protections written into them to protect against government overreach.

The risks of escalated police interaction have led many local advocates to favor infrastructure improvements over enforcement. These improvements could include broadly and strategically distributed amenities such as protected bike lanes, traffic calming measures, recreation paths, crosswalk countdown timers, and street lights. Each time there is a proposed infrastructure project, we ask for people to raise the critical questions to ensure that we course correct decades of uneven, unfair infrastructure projects. You can ask questions like: Who benefits from this project? Who does it leave out? How could it be improved to make its benefits more widespread?  How can this project center the wellness and prosperity of communities of color and other communities that have seen disinvestment?

We don’t have “the solution”, but we know it involves a likely messy merger of the Vision Zero effort with people and groups vigilant against racial profiling, inequitable distribution of safe streets infrastructure, and police brutality. The solution to unsafe streets will involve bike advocates and also those adept at fighting gentrification, at curbing the reach of street cameras to surveil communities of color, and critically important, it will involve community input from the start.

In Philadelphia, we have the opportunity to give comments on the Vision Zero Action Plan. The comment period is open for community members to weigh in on how to make the streets safer. Take a few minutes to read the plan and take the survey. How does this plan make streets safer for people of color? Could it put people of color at greater risk for police interactions of excessive force? How would you prioritize or implement these ideas? Take the opportunity to share that safe streets are streets with fair infrastructure and enforcement aimed at de-escalation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Women Fight for the Right to Bicycle

In most developed countries, women don’t think twice about riding their bicycle. But in some areas of the world, cultures have distorted women’s right to travel freely, especially targeting bicycling. Women who dare to bicycle in such places, are met at least with harassment and at worst, physical attack. And yet many are facing these dangers in a courageous fight to tear down these myths and open the way for all women to ride bicycles without threat.

In Defying Poverty with Bicycles, I discuss the importance of understanding local culture and barriers to bicycling before embarking on any bicycle program. In places where women are banned from bicycling, no bicycle program could effectively move forward.

If you live in such a place, I hope this latest example of Egyptian women’s courage against this injustice will help you remove your own culture’s stigma in order to set the stage for many effective bicycle projects and programs that will serve all members of your society.

Recent news articles from around the world highlighted a very successful event organized by women and girls in Egypt who call themselves There is No Difference. This excerpt from one article captures their passion:

“…Egyptian girls face the same adversity. Harassment in the streets, threats and abuse are hurled their way as they pedal past. However, a group of 5 individuals who called themselves: “There is No Difference”, are looking to change all of that.

Since the Egyptian government cut fuel subsidies, the cost of public transport has soared. This has resulted in more women cycling as a means of transportation. However, the barriers they face in the street are enough to scare off women from riding bikes, leaving them with little option for travelling.

There is No Difference hosted their first mass bike ride event as part of their new campaign. Supported by men, women and children, hundreds of cyclists rode through the streets of Port Said in Northern Egypt…”

Read more in the article including some links to similar efforts in other countries. At One Street we applaud all these efforts to bring equality to all the world’s citizens through the only machine that can, the bicycle.

Have you had experience fighting similar injustices against any sort of person bicycling? If so, please offer ideas in the comments section.

Sue

Monday, January 16, 2017

What If Civil Rights Included Bicycles?

Today is Martin Luther King Day, my favorite holiday because it celebrates opposition to hatred and injustice. One great example is the Montgomery, Alabama bus strike, launched in December of 1955 by Rosa Parks’ brave determination to stay seated on a bus, which set black workers walking and carpooling for 381 days until all Montgomery buses were desegregated. Of all the writings about the bus strike and the hard walking workers endured, there is one single-sentence quote that captures it best for me. Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story to the New York Times in 1961:

On a chill morning in the autumn of 1956, an elderly, toilworn Negro woman… began her slow painful four-mile walk to her job… The old woman’s difficult progress led a passerby to inquire sympathetically if her feet were tired. Her simple answer…, “Yes, friend, my feet is real tired, but my soul is rested.”

The walking itself, the hard, painful walking, and the complex carpool system they set up were points of pride. I realize and respect this. But I’ve always wondered how the movement might have unfolded if they could have used bicycles, too. Many more black people could have participated and the strain on the carpool system would have been eased. Perhaps bikes could have enabled even more bus strikes across the south. And then, imagine how many black workers would have kept riding, free from bus fares and the limits of their routes and schedules.

Unfortunately, in the 1950s and 60s bicycles were viewed only as toys in the U.S. Bikes were made to look like rocket ships and motorcycles, equipped with toy guns and sirens. It’s no wonder our civil rights heroes never even thought of them.

So where are we today in comparison?

A movement has emerged after horrific events with the name Black Lives Matter. That anyone, individual or group, has to proclaim that their life matters should appall us.

Politicians promote hatred and fear to gain power. And it works.

The CEOs of our top bike companies here in the U.S. still refer to bicycling only as a sport, their companies cranking out blingy mountain bikes and road racers with hardly a wink to basic bikes for getting around. Read more in this post.

The civil rights movement continues, it must; expanded now to oppose fearmongering toward any group and stomp out propaganda that segregates. Each of us—anyone who reads blogs like this one, anyone who knows the danger of hatred and prejudice—must protest every act of prejudice, whether through words spoken, police brutality, or through improper transportation provisions.

And let’s finally demand that our bike industry and transportation officials ensure that anyone, no matter how marginalized they may be by our current backslide toward prejudice, can choose the freedom of bicycling for their means of transportation. 

Sue

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Laws That Criminalize Cycling Reveal Ill Intentions

Bicycle advocates have a difficult job. Winning improvements for cycling is hard enough, but then every gain they make can become the target of lawmakers who see cyclists as obstacles to be removed from roadways. Such lawmakers often try to hide their initiatives under thin veils labeled “safety” as if they are doing cyclists a favor.

Such false “safety” initiatives are usually packaged in laws that require cyclists to wear things, which make cycling less convenient and often impossible for impoverished cyclists without breaking the law. Such laws force impoverished cyclists into becoming targets for police harassment because they have no other transportation option. The most common of these sorts of laws are mandatory helmet laws. Others include reflective vests or other supposed safety gear.

These sorts of malicious initiatives are so harmful to any bicycle program that I made sure to include a short section on bicycle advocacy in Defying Poverty with Bicycles. The book focuses on setting up a community center where people can find bikes and careers. And yet even these program leaders must be alert for threats like these to ensure they participants can ride.

Even though such threats are common, I was stunned earlier this year when I read about the situation in New South Wales, Australia. Australia is already crippled by a nationwide mandatory bicycle helmet law, which likely emboldened brazen lawmakers. They took these deceitful tactics several notches higher with increased fines and an additional requirement for cyclists to carry ID. Read more about it here.

So I’m happy to report that they didn’t get away with it. This recent article gives a nice overview of the successful response from bicycle advocates.

We can let out a sigh of relief for everyone in New South Wales who needs to or will ever want to ride a bicycle. And yet we cannot ignore the fact that bicycle advocates had to spend more than a year battling this ridiculous threat when they could have given their energy to creating kinder communities.

We all have to keep a careful eye out for and then stomp out even the slightest hint of such threats or we could be faced with an escalation like they saw in New South Wales.

Sue

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

DIY Bicycle-Powered Machines Gift Ideas

In Defying Poverty with Bicycles, I wait until the last chapter to encourage readers to experiment with machines powered with bicycles. I also include a warning to ensure that all Social Bike Business tasks are taken care of before embarking on these projects. Otherwise, the temptation to spend all our time with these fun projects could be too much.

But the holiday season, with its slowed pace and time to tinker, might be the perfect time to buck that warning and give it a try. There are several groups of pedal-powered machines for you to choose from. Consider what you want to power first, then decide whether direct rotational power will suffice or whether you will have to incorporate a generator and batteries for long-term power.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 12 to give you some ideas:

Bike machines are another fanciful addition to your manufacturing lineup. Bicycles can power knife sharpeners, corn grinders, electrical generators, battery chargers, washing machines, water pumps and water filters. The opportunities are endless. Each could become a mobile business for your training graduates or remain at your center for its use or to rent for specific amounts of time. Search the internet for “bicycle powered” and you’ll find ideas you never could have imagined. Some operate as bicycles to carry their owners to a place where they can set up shop. Then, with just a few turns of a wrench, the pedals become the power that turns the knife sharpening wheel, grinder, battery charger or other contraption. Before moving into producing many of the same type of machine, ask whether that particular bicycle powered machine is the most needed and in demand.
For instance, a remote rural area might benefit enormously from rentable bicycle powered corn grinders. If your center is in a remote area that has sketchy electrical service, your program itself might benefit from setting up several bicycle powered electrical generators that could provide direct power or charge car batteries for longer term use. Your volunteers and even kids in the area will enjoy pedaling a few rounds to build up the juice. Bicycle powered water pumps and filters could also directly benefit your center if your water supply is distant and not trustworthy. 
If you and your team want to go into production of bicycle machines to sell, you’ll need to narrow your choices or end up wasting an enormous amount of time producing a machine that no one will be interested in. Make sure the machines you produce offer a significant benefit to many people in your area and will be in high demand. Otherwise, keep your bicycle machine creations in the realm of off-duty time for your welders who want to play around.

This holiday season could give you and your team the chance to play around with ideas. Even if you don’t hit on a great machine to reproduce at your social bike center, you could come up with some wild gifts for the quirkiest people on your list.

And don’t forget those movers and shakers on your list who’d love to learn how to help people with bicycles. A copy of Defying Poverty with Bicycles might be all they need to charge ahead.

Sue

Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading, PA is Defying Poverty with Bicycles

Reading, Pennsylvania has become a new model for Social Bike Business because the entire city, from government officials to citizens, support and are proud of their social bike shop. That bike shop has also led to a bike-share program, a downtown DIY repair station, and bike racks on busses. New bicycle facilities on the streets are in the works. Read about this incredible story in this recent NPR article.

This didn’t happen overnight. Reading had to hit some terrible times first, including high unemployment and too many residents below the poverty level. But those bad stats set the stage for what has become a vibrant structure that now cranks out programs, run by locals, that are changing the city into a healthy, safe, and happy place for everyone who lives there. And they started with bikes!

In 2013, Reading’s mayor called a summit of officials and community stakeholders to take an honest look at their deteriorating economic situation. They saw the creation of a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) as key to the solution and guided its founding.

That CDC, called ReDesign Reading, is now the powerhouse behind programs that engage citizens in recreating their city – from murals to community gardens and markets to bikes.

Do you lead a bike program in your city that seems too detached from your city government? Check out ReDesign Reading then show your city officials. They’ll have a hard time snubbing such a fantastic model that sets citizens out as the experts and the very heart of solving a city’s problems. And they’re doing it with bikes!

Sue

Monday, August 1, 2016

Homeless Bikes for Homeless People

One of my pet peeves about bicycle programs for impoverished peopled is the tendency for these programs to ship abandoned bikes away to countries perceived to be “poor.” Usually Africa is the recipient.

Not only do the messages of these programs offend Africans and people in other developing countries, for goodness sake, they’re shipping great bikes away from people who could use them in their own countries! This is one important reason why One Street is so focused on our Social Bike Business program – to keep bikes and bike careers in their communities.

I’ve had some rather bizarre discussions about this with bike advocates and program leaders in various countries who support these overseas shipment programs and have found to my amazement a common denial that their country has any impoverished or struggling people. When I’ve pushed this point, sometimes they will admit there are some, but then continue to argue for shipping their bikes away.

These discussions uncover a disturbing blindness when it comes to recognizing poverty in our own communities. Here is one article about some people trying to reveal the invisibility of homelessness.

I realize that some of these bikes do fill important, temporary gaps in some countries. But in general they are preventing better long-term solutions such as local bike manufacturing and businesses that could supply affordable bikes and at the same time create bike careers for local people. Thus, they remove an opportunity from one community and hamper opportunities in the receiving community.

So I was very happy to find this article from Wichita, Kansas, of all places. Their program to match abandoned bikes with currently homeless people in their city seems like a great model. I plan to point to this example the next time I engage in a heated discussion about shipping bikes away from people who could use them, right where they already are.

Do you know of other nice examples that are keeping abandoned bikes in their communities? Please offer them in the comments section.

Sue