Black Biking Communities Seek Solutions for ‘Cycling While Black’ Phenomenon

We’ve all heard the term, “Driving while black.” It denotes the fact that African American drivers get pulled over more often, get tickets for minor offenses more often and face more harassment or ill-treatment during traffic stops.

It may not be surprising that “cycling while black” has now become a recognized problem for people of color. Hard statistics and solid numbers don’t lie.

Charles Brown is a senior transportation researcher at Rutgers University. He conducted a survey of more than 2,000 avid black and Latino riders in New Jersey. Slightly more than 15% of those surveyed reported being unfairly detained by law enforcement officials. This, in turn, caused them to routinely avoid certain areas of the city — locations where all others feel free to travel without concern.

Bicycling.com conducted a statistical review of public data for three major U.S. cities, Oakland, Washington D.C. and New Orleans. The editors of the study concluded that locations in these cities are more heavily policed for biking than others. Furthermore, the data shows clearly that black and brown people are cited at a higher rate for violations than white people riding in the same locations. In Oakland, black riders accounted for 60% of all bike stops while black people make up just 22% of the population.

Finally, a 2019 study sponsored by the Chicago Tribune found that 8 of the 10 most ticketed locations for cycling violations were in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods and communities.

To combat these trends, many prominent members of the nonwhite cycling community are speaking out and suggesting ways to improve the situation. One of them is San Francisco’s Nehemiah Brown. He said he finds numerous similarities in the battle for racial equity and cycling itself. Brown said black people and cyclists are “stronger when they work together.”

Brown has prioritized making biking an inclusive and safe sport for people of color. He started out by getting into deep conversations about the issues with the riding partners within his local cycling clubs. He said raising awareness about equity in cycling means networking within cycling clubs for minorities. Raising awareness starts in one’s local area and is then communicated to the wider world using social media, websites and more, Brown said.

Kyle Thornhill, a white cyclist from Vacaville, California, supports efforts to combat racial inequity in biking. He said, “activism is using consistent campaigning” that leverages all forms of media to bring about social and political change.

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