What It's Like to Ride a Bike While Being Black

March 20th 2017

Bike commuting is becoming more popular than ever. However, a Chicago Tribune analysis found that your biking experience can be seriously effected by where you live, and the color of your skin. 

From 2008 to September 2016, the Tribune's Mary Wisniewski found that the top 10 communities for bike tickets included seven majority-black communities and three three majority-Latino communities, despite the fact that biking was more popular in white neighborhoods. For example, between January 1 and September 22 of 2016, the majority black neighborhood Austin saw 321 bike tickets while the white and wealthy neighborhood of Lincoln Park saw five. 

"It's so unfair,"  Patric McCoy, a black cyclist and retired Environmental Protection Agency enforcement official told the Tribune. "It creates a situation where you get a dislike for the police because they're not doing what they should be doing. They're messing with you for nothing."

Brendan Kevenides a lawyer who specializes in biking cases told the Tribune that low-income minority communities shouldn't have more biking tickets than wealthy white neighborhoods. 

"I don't know what possible rational explanation there could be for the police to write more bike infraction tickets in neighborhoods that have less — less money, less businesses, less bicycle infrastructure than in other communities," he told the Tribune. 

Citing one example of over-policing of back bicyclists, McCoy said that he was previously stopped and threatened with a ticket for riding his bike on the sidewalk while officers ran his license for warrants as he stood in the rain.

A blog called "Second City Cop: Sarcasm and Silliness From a Windy City Cop" published a response to the Tribune article and McCoy's story, calling it "bullshit." 

He was justifiably stopped because he WAS BREAKING THE LAW, not because he was black. You break the law, you attract the attention of the police, who are tasked with.....enforcing the law!

However, some communities don't have bike lanes. 

A report by PeopleforBikes, a membership organization founded by leaders in the bicycle industry, published a report called "Building Equity" about the potential for better biking infrastructure in minority communities. Marven Norman, the vice president of the Inland Empire Biking Alliance in California and a black bicycle rider, said that more affluent communities often get bike lanes because they have the resources and time to demand them.

“The part of town where the buffered bike lane is, is where you see one bike a day, maybe three,” Norman said in the report. “The part of the town where everyone is pedaling around the corner all the day? There are no bike lanes. Everybody’s on the sidewalk.”

A 2015 report by the League of American Bicyclists compared a map of Chicago neighborhoods to the location of its bike infrastructure. 

"When demographic groups are examined individually, one can see a strong relationship between large pockets of minority populations and areas of below average bicycle access," the report's authors state. 

Other police departments have been accused of targeting minority bicyclists. 

A 2015 investigation by the Alexandra Zayas and Kameel Stanley from the Tampa Bay Times found that eight out of 10 bicycle tickets in Tampa were given to black riders, "targeting poor, black neighborhoods with obscure subsections of a Florida statute that outlaws things most people have tried on a bike, like riding with no light or carrying a friend on the handlebars." The Times analyzed more than 10,000 bicycle tickets from 2003 to 2015, and found that black residents only made up a quarter of bike riders but received 79 percent of the tickets. 

One woman told the Tampa Bay Times that she was walking, not riding, her bike home while carrying a plate of food, when she got a $51 ticket for not having a light on the bike. After the late fees, the ticket rose to $90, which she couldn't afford to pay. 

Black people are subjected to disproportionate police contact while driving, too. 

In 2015, The Washington Post's Jeff Guo reported on data showing that police are far more likely to request to search the vehicles of minority drivers, even though those drivers are less likely to have illegal material on them.

Take Illinois for example, which is required to keep racial statistics on traffic stops due to concerns about racial bias in policing in the state. According to the ACLU's 2013 analysis of statewide traffic stop data, "black and Hispanic motorists were nearly twice as likely as white motorists to have their vehicles consent searched during traffic stops." However, "when police in Illinois performed a consent search in 2013, white motorists were far more likely than minority motorists to be found with contraband."

 "It's apparent, though, that ineffectual, biased policing continues in many places — more black people are stopped and searched for contraband, while more white people are found with it," Guo wrote. 

RELATED: The Reason Black Lives Matter Isn't Just for Black People

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