Are you looking for stocking stuffers for the upcoming holiday season? Check out our list of recommended readings and books that cover the intersection of bicycle/pedestrian planning and the theme of race, class, and inequality.
Right of Way by Angie Schmitt
Journalist Angie Schmitt critiques how decades of planning has normalized an expectation for pedestrian fatalities. Expectations that she emphasizes resulted in a 50 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in the United States since 2009. Ms. Schmitt enumerates the substantial role of the car oriented culture, driven by private capital and furthered by federal and state policies, as the driving force of not just the normalization of pedestrian fatalities, but also its disproportionate effect on the vulnerable population, i.e. low income and persons of color. Ms. Schmitt further asserts that even though 1 in 5 traffic deaths have most recently been bicyclist and pedestrians, bicycle and pedestrian planning receive only 1.5 percent in federal funding.
Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance by Adonia E. Lugo
Cultural Anthropologist Adonia E. Lugo tells a slightly different narrative where she recalls her own personal experience of growing up as a Latina in San Juan Capistrano, South Orange County, California. Ms. Lugo particularly recalls the role of the automobile as not just an oil dependent, unsustainable practice, but rather most known for being a symbol of protection and a signifier of class power. It is in this way that Ms. Lugo delves further into the acknowledgment of the U.S. bike movement as a product of a racially segregated society. Ms. Hoffman further discredits the theory that if you build it, they will come as a principle of bicycle advocacy. In doing so, Ms. Lugo takes a different approach to changing street culture and sustainable transportation through a multiracial movement for mobility justice. What is most unique about Ms. Lugo’s approach is that she crafts the multiracial movement by first tracing painful colonial histories and acknowledging the disparities that were created across transportation and housing, policing, and economic justice practices. Ms. Lugo further highlights the significant deterrence in historic planning practices in having privilege and power as a lead role in safety projects, thereby avoiding key considerations, including: Did bike commuting make someone seem important, or did being an unimportant person make bicycling seem equally worthless and What made a street safe or unsafe, and whose safety are we talking about.
Bike Lanes are White Lanes: Bicycle Advocacy and Urban Planning by Melody L. Hoffmann
Published in the summer of 2016, Melody Hoffman examines case studies in Portland, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis with respect to how bicycling and bicycle infrastructure has been shaped by bicycle culture, advocacy, and media groups to no longer appear as something good for everyone, but “racial and spatial projects ripe with inequities.” Her examination of the case study of Minneapolis particularly looked at bicycle infrastructure as an “ecologically friendly economic development tool” as framed by White elites, where concerns of gentrification, as well as displacement and inaccessibility, came from residents of Northern Minneapolis. Northern Minneapolis was previously a 75% White community in the 1980s, and is now a 43% Black and 30% White community. Similarly, Ms. Hoffmann further illustrates the interaction between these two racial groups in debating the benefits of reconstructing a bike lane in the historical neighborhood of Albina in North Portland, where the longtime residents, who were mostly Black, were not upset about the project itself, but rather were upset with the timing of project in being prioritized at a time when there is an influx of White bicyclists entering the neighborhood. In doing so, Ms. Hoffman would set out to explore intentions of aggressive bicycle infrastructure in attributing bicycle usage as an emblem of political and social stance, and bicycle planning and infrastructure as a “rolling signifier” that upholds systemic racial and class barriers.
Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
In order to be able to address why there might be racial tension when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian planning in a given community, it is essential to understand the decades of deliberately imposed racial segregation that has shaped the current landscape of these communities. One of the publications that best delineates this history is Mr. Rothstein’s New York Time Bestseller, NPR Best Book of the Year, and Hillman Prize Winner, The Color of Law, where he begins by asserting that segregation of Black persons was and is not de facto, or solely accidental as a result of certain private practices, but rather that it is de jure, or a result of decades of racially explicit governmental law and public policy. That is, personal preference, alone could not have segregated the entire country without the support of the federal government. Beginning with the creation of the first public housing facilities in Austin, Texas where Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics were separated, and Black projects were built in areas previously designated by the municipality as a “ghetto”. Mr. Rothstein states that it was the racial practices of the Federal Housing Administration and local zoning that reinforced redlining that limited the supply of housing available to Black people and allowed private markets to take advantage of the situation by offering low quality housing at extremely high values. Then when undesirable uses were placed within Black communities, many of these neighborhoods became characterized as “slums” by Whites and thus began the lingering resentment of Blacks moving into White neighborhoods. Furthermore, Mr. Rothstein acknowledges that at this point in time it is nearly impossible to untangle the webs that the effects of segregation have created, but rather the most important action that we can take is to acknowledge the mistakes of our federal government and take responsibility to fix it.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
Whereas Mr. Rothstein discussed historical racial federal policies that have influenced today’s society, this New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Winner further addresses the history of racial ideas that have influenced today’s society. In delineating this history, Mr. Kendi’s most overarching question is: why is there a general consistent trend with white people continuing to win and black people continuing lose? Why does a disparity exist? Mr. Kendi responds by summarizing that there are only two explanations that we, as a society, have been debating for centuries and those are that either that Black people are “bad” or there is racial discrimination. Which has led many segregationist and assimilationist to believe that disparities exist because Black people are just “bad” without looking for further explanations and studies. That is not merely representing Black persons, that is representative of several populations that have been discriminated against. In the book, Mr. Kendi delves further into a number of historical policies, where his most overarching finding is that sophisticated persons throughout history created economic and political racist policies, justified them with racist ideas, and then distributed them to society, and so emerged the cycle of underlying racism. Just as the first four publications asserted that decades of federal legislation normalized this concept of “acceptable deaths” particularly for Black and Brown communities, Mr. Kendi actually asserts a similar notion that racial ideas have normalized racial disparity by offering a statement that reinforces one’s own belief in lieu of explanatory studies.