Black Women BIke

Spreading the love of cycling

WASHINGTON D.C. — In 2006, the City of Detroit made a lot of effort to map out its non-motorized master plan, a plan aimed at creating a framework to help Detroit's citizens get out of cars and start walking and biking.

As of now, Detroit has nearly 100 miles of bike lanes and greenways. Next year, between the city, state and county, residents will see about 70 more miles, closing in on their goal of over 400 miles of lanes.

And while Detroit is stocking up on white road paint and sharrows, other cities and municipalities across the United States are already well on their way to having fully established bike share systems.

One of them is Washington D.C., who according to City Engineer and Planner Veronica Davis, had a very aggressive cycling program under former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Cycle trips under the former mayor increased 200 percent on Pennsylvania Ave. and the city has seen one million trips taken through their bikeshare, which they intend on expanding.

According to Davis, however, on the east side of the Anacostia River, which is primarily African American, biking initiatives didn't go over so well.

Davis, who co-founded an urban planning consulting firm and was recently crowned a Champion of Change by none other than the White House, has been a cyclist and transportation advocate for the D.C. area for years, and started the now infamous (at least in her city) Black Women Bike.

She founded the group because she noticed African Americans in her neighborhood felt isolated from the cycling policies that were rapidly being implemented. She said her neighbors felt that "they were for the white people."

veronica-o-davis-peShe said the bike policies unfolded rapidly and African American residents feared they were gentrifying  the city. In fact, in the last election, bike policy was the main issue facing mayoral candidates. It was, and is, an issue splitting one city into two.

"We don't have the bike infrastructure and bike lanes," she says of the neighborhoods east of the river. "Many people do not recognize the role that equitable and accessible multi modal transportation options play in their everyday lives. Transportation planning and choice have the ability to impact socioeconomic conditions, personal health and overall quality of life."

And cycling is a major part of those transportation options, no matter who you are or where you're from.

BWB might be the only cycling program or club in D.C. that has addressed these equity issues between communities in the area. And Davis has attracted nearly 700 African American women to ride bikes with her.

When Davis formed the group in early 2011, they had a mere three members. Then the Washington Post caught wind of the group, penned an article and the BWB grew to 300 members in just two days.

"So we had a big ride immediately after," Davis said. "We had women from their late twenties to their sixties -- from triathletes to people who haven't ridden a bike for a long time."

"We ride all around the city, and then people see us going out and say, 'hey, I can do this too.' It's about getting people riding and excited to ride," she said.


Black Women Bike throw seminars and regular rides, including a D.C. version of the Tweed Ride, and other rides aimed at having a leisurely and fun time while also spreading cycling awareness.

"We ride all around the city, and then people see us going out and say, 'hey, I can do this too.' It's about getting people riding and excited to ride," she said.

The club started hosting the seminars because they wanted to create an educational component to the group, and teach women how to fix flat tires and how to ride safely at night. Another reason, she said, was because of the snarky attitudes bike shops can have towards novice cyclists and that those shops are the first interaction people have in the world of cycling.

"Our mission," said the change champion, "is to get people on bikes for health, wellness and transportation. And we're trying to remove the excuses people have."

Davis will keep doing her thing, no matter what. She's just doing what she's always done -- be an advocate for transportation. Well, one might wonder, what about the African American men in D.C.? Where is their bike program?

Well, Davis said, we have scores of women riding on bikes. "The men naturally follow."

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