It’s time for cycling advocates to stop ignoring people of color


Published in Spoke Magazine, June 19 2016
Illustration by Mariya Pilipenko

Last year saw the occasion of an uncomfortable shakeup at the League of American Bicyclists, one of the most influential bike-focused lobbying groups in Washington, D.C. Anthropologist Adonia Lugo, who had been hired to run the League’s Equity Initiative — that is, to support conversations about race and class within the organization and in the bike movement at large — abruptly left her job.

“I thought I was coming in to provide this expert guidance,” Lugo says, having dedicated her academic work to cycling and the power dynamics of race and class. “What it ended up feeling like was that I was a diversity hire, and that I wasn’t actually supposed to be there to run with things in my program area.” Because she felt like her suggestions and concerns weren’t taken seriously, she quit.

Alex Doty, the League’s new executive director and the former head of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, declines to comment on Lugo’s specific concerns because he took on the role after her departure. But he says, “Adonia has many valid criticisms of the League’s work on equity, diversity and inclusion.”

Her departure, however, suggests a bigger conflict between the diversity of the bicycling community and the decidedly less-diverse world of cycling advocacy.

Environmentalism has an offshoot in the environmental justice movement, which represents low-income victims of industrial pollution. Urbanists, too, are increasingly being called on to consider race, class and gender in their work making cities denser and transit-rich. But cycling advocacy remains mostly white, male and comparatively wealthy, which feeds the incorrect perception that all bicyclists fit this description. Still, the public-facing monoculture at the top of the movement often fails to have meaningful discussions about equity, if the discussions happen at all.

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