Equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work around bicycling is critical. The piece Unsolicited Advice for Vision Zero by Adonia Lugo, a national leader on bicycle advocacy issues, is very informative for our work and worth a read.
It is especially poignant about the need for meaningful community engagement for agenda setting. And it is also a good reminder of the impact of policies calling for increased police traffic enforcement in communities already struggling with racial profiling and police violence.
We asked local bicycle advocates to share their thoughts on the piece, and what it meant for their work and our work. Let us know what your reactions are as well!
Full disclosure, I am an Adonia Lugo fan. I grew as an advocate working with her during her tenure in DC when I served as member of the League of American Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council. I witnessed first hand the experience she describes of resentment, exclusion and tokenism. This experience is one that is familiar to many advocates of color. I tease about advocacy organizations having their own “negro” on a bike.
Her comments touch on many of the challenges in the active transportation movement. I will only comment on Vision Zero. There are numerous issues with vision zero from an equity perspective. The greatest challenge is that the vision zero strategies (using NYC as an example) depend on institutions that have a legacy of inequity and institutional racism:
- City Hall
- The Department of Transportation
- The New York City Police Department (or Chicago or LA or San Francisco or Minneapolis)
If you read through the Vision Zero plans there is a consistent focus on enforcement. The transportation version of “broken windows policing” which ultimately led to “stop, question and frisk” and we all know how that turned out.
The community outreach and “engagement” initiatives lack the key measure of genuine engagement - RECIPROCITY and an acknowledgement of the lived experience of the communities.
The manner that Vision Zero is being rolled out in America’s cities looks like failed solutions of recent history, which have focused on “outreach”, “inclusion” and “diversity” rather than racial equity and will not result in equitable access to opportunities and outcomes for people of color locally or nationally. We must not make these mistakes in the Twin Cities.
Lisa Bender, Minneapolis City Council Member
In the 15 years I’ve been active in the bicycle movement, there’s been significant evolution. But as Adonia Lugo shows us, there is a long way to go. The bicycle movement challenges the often entrenched notion that streets are for cars. But it is also made up primarily of people who experience this “second-class” treatment only when they choose to bicycle instead of drive.
The challenge Lugo puts forward – for the bicycle movement to build on the knowledge and values of communities in our own cities – may have some risk in the short-term. But in the long-term, our movement will be more effective if it is locally driven, intentionally feminist, and challenges white supremacy and white privilege. I want to thank Lugo and other bicycle advocates of color who are challenging the biases that perpetuate systems of oppression, including those within the bicycle movement. We will be better for it.
Matthew Dyrdahl, Minneapolis Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator
This was a fascinating article for many reasons. As I started to consider a response, I couldn’t get past the part where Adonia describes feeling like she could not solve the problem she was hired to fix. One thing that stuck out to me on a personal level is that Adonia and I have been professionals in the bike movement for about the same amount of time (since 2007-2008).
As a white male, I have had a completely different experience. I think there needs to be more self-reflection about bicycle planning/advocacy as a system, and who is able to participate in that system. We need to have more discussion about what it will take to get more women and people of color into professional and leadership roles in this field.
Laura Kling, Community Organizer, all the time bike rider
I have discussed this with multiple people, and they have all chosen to focus on a different aspect of Adonia's article, like on tokenism or Eurocentric bias or centering white male perspectives or racial profiling, depending on their perspective. (Hallmark of a great article.)
From my perspective, the most timely and obvious advice that Adonia gives to white organizations is to criticize treating the mortal threat of racial profiling by law enforcement as an afterthought.
To ignore the dangers of racial profiling, even as the Black Lives Matter movement brings awareness to racially motivated police brutality, is to be complacent with white privilege, and moves us further from our goal of a better, more equitable transportation system for all.
I encourage everyone who reads this article to ask themselves, "How am I contributing to this problem, as an individual, and with my organization?" Instead of asking why there's no diversity at your "table," ask how you can actively welcome someone to a meal. Get up, open the door, pull out their chair, ask them what they would like to eat. Because if you look around and you only see people who look white, and male, like you, we should ask ourselves what we are doing (or not doing) that pushes people away.
Maria Wardoku, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition Board VP
A voice like Adonia Lugo can make white advocates like me cringe a little as we're forced to turn the mirror on ourselves. Lugo's article was a necessary reminder of how very far we have to go in truly diversifying bike advocacy, but it also made me proud of the work the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has done recently.
During our strategic planning process, we not only recognized the need to include more people of color in our leadership, but also recognized that we must be prepared to fundamentally change as an organization to reflect the experiences and priorities of those people. I was amazed that we could come to consensus on that idea as a majority-white group of people.
And while we obviously have many miles to go before the Coalition truly represents the diversity of our city, I'm certain that the board and staff are committed to that idea, however uncomfortable and humbling the journey there may be. From working to increase equity across all our programs to electing leaders of color to publicly supporting many of the priorities of Black Lives Matter, the Coalition is taking Lugo's critiques to heart and I hope that bike advocacy organizations across the country will follow our lead.
José Luis Villaseñor, Father of 3 future avid bicyclists, Community Organizer for inclusive grassroots justice
As an avid Xicano bicyclist and founder of a Latinx bike organization rooted in engaging communities of color on issues of environmental and food justice, I agree with Adonia Lugo that their is a need that “bike movement to let people like me inside, with our hearts and minds.
I believe that Adonia Lugo’s blog post is pushing bike advocacy organizations across the country to takes stock of their organization and look inward, highlighting the fact that the conversation on bike equity is seen as a form of backpedaling.
This is due to the fact that bike advocacy organizations nationally and locally typically do not emerge out of the need to promote equitable strategies within communities of color through bikes, nor to find intersections to highlight the importance of addressing issues that directly affect low income communities of color, such as unemployment, police brutality, deportation and environmental racism.
As Lugo clearly states in her blog, “strategy that emerged from exclusive networks” decentralizes urban communities voices in attaining the solutions to issues related to walking, biking and transit use in our cities.
This internal reflection for bike advocacy organizations across the country is not one that should be taken personally, but taken has an opportunity to engage communities of color from a place of intersectionality and trust, for racial and economic justice, to be seen as the first steps in engaging communities of color around bike advocacy and infrastructure.
Until then, we will continue on this tandem pedaling backwards in a direction that is not rooted in community, justice and inclusivity.
Bill Dooley, Bicycle Advocate
Bicycle advocate supporters of Vision Zero programs that have a law enforcement component have a significantly different frame of reference than people of color whose dealings with law enforcement have historically been adversarial or violent.
Many people of color who bicycle and walk in urban areas and are aware of the dangers that careless and distracted drivers present, would prefer enhanced penalties for drivers that strike and cause bodily harm to them rather than preemptive traffic stops of persons driving a car.
The current Vision Zero controversy shows the value of confronting various frames of references early in any planning process to prevent assuming a specific set of values are the true and only obvious solution to a specific problem. This is what Adonia did and I am glad she did it even though, in the end, it required her to leave her place of employment.
LaTrisha Vetaw, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition Board President
I believe that we start by encouraging and educating elected officials, asking them to create a plan that includes some community dialogue with police has to begin.
Having discussions around what safety really means to underserved groups and creating a comprehensive safety plan for underserved groups is necessary to continue this work.
Ethan Fawley, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition Executive Director
Adonia Lugo’s piece is very thought provoking for me and has challenged my thinking. It speaks to the importance of a number of things as we do our work at the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, but I want to focus on two: enforcement and community ownership.
To make our streets safe and comfortable for everyone, I believe that we must figure out equitable traffic enforcement. But right now it is clear that our law enforcement system needs serious reform to address institutional racism (a recent ACLU report shows the extent in Minneapolis) and rebuild trust with many in our community, especially in communities of color. Until we make significant progress on that work, I'm unsure that we as street safety advocates can pursue more enforcement.
We also must do more to build diverse community ownership of projects and be more attuned to the needs and desires of community members from all backgrounds. We need to support more authentic and meaningful community engagement processes (like the Northside Greenway process) and be willing to adjust a project to maximize the value and address concerns of communities—especially those who are underrepresented in current processes. We also must do more to learn about the priorities of low-income people who bike as right now our engagement generally underserves them.
Dana DeMaster - Read Dana's full response on the Grease Rag website
When I wrote this response to Adonia Lugo's article I was not sure if I planned to publish it or only write it for myself. I have been heartened by all the responses saying that I articulated what so many others were feeling. One person wrote, "Thank you for putting words to death by a thousand cuts." I am equally disheartened by all the others that left advocacy work for the same reasons I did. At least I know it's not just me.