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Friday, July 5, 2013

Group Tries To Increase Access To Bicycles Among African Americans

(Red Bike & Green/Facebook)

(Red Bike & Green/Facebook)

As bike share programs kick off in cities from New York to Chattanooga, some are concerned that they only serve the yuppier parts of cities.

In Chicago, city officials acknowledged that their bike stations are focused on serving city business centers — not poorer neighborhoods.

But Eboni Senai Hawkins says there’s a bigger problem — poor access to bikes among African-Americans. She recently launched the Chicago branch of Red Bike and Green, a national group promoting cycling in the black community.

Hawkin’s organization leads community bike rides through African-American communities in Chicago, to get people in the communities out and riding, and learning more about cycling.

Doing so, Hawkins says, has positive effects for health and for the social fabric of neighborhoods.

“Cycling for us is a community building tool,” Hawkins said. “So when people see–they actually see–black people on bikes, who look like them, that goes a long way.”


  • Eboni Senai Hawkins, organizer of Chicago branch of Red, Bike and Green



We're back now with our conversation about bike shares. And as the programs take root in cities from New York to Chattanooga, some are concerned that they're only serving the yuppier parts of cities. " Bedford Stuyvesant poked fun at New York's Citi Bike program in this interview with a man in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Where's Citi Bike? What we really need is Citi Bike. Ain't no Citi Bike in the hood.

AL MADRIGAL: You're saying people in your neighborhood actually need the bike program?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We need the bikes.

MADRIGAL: Why can't you just take the subway?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take the subway? The J Train? The J Train? Where the (bleep) am I going to go on the J Train?


HOBSON: That's "The Daily Show's" Al Madrigal speaking with a Brooklyn resident. Well, in Chicago, city officials acknowledge that their bike stations are focused on serving city business centers, not poorer neighborhoods. But Eboni Senai Hawkins says there's a bigger problem - poor access to bikes among African-American. She recently launched the Chicago branch of Red Bike and Green, a national group promoting cycling in the black community. She joins us now from WBEZ in Chicago.

And Eboni, why do you think it's important to promote cycling among African-Americans?

EBONI SENAI HAWKINS: With Red Bike and Green, health is a really big part. And so the propensity of obesity and diabetes in the African-American community is huge. So whether you're using biking as a recreational thing or you're thinking about biking as I'm just going to bike to work twice a week, that can make a huge difference in your physical health.

Some of the barriers that I've experienced, specifically here in Chicago, some of the barriers to access, sometimes people say that I don't own a bike. Where do I get a bike from? Or you have people who purchase bikes from places like, you know, Target or Wal-Mart that aren't made very well. So they break down very quickly.

Another thing is access. If your bike breaks down, then where do you go and get it repaired? These are all questions that come up.

HOBSON: Well, tell us about what you're been doing to try to increase cycling among African-Americans?

HAWKINS: Part of Red Bike and Green, like I said, is that cycling for us is a community-building tool. So we have our monthly community rides in each of the cities, and so when people see - they actually see black people on bikes who look like them - that goes a long way. And also knowing that we're not riding fast. We're riding at a decent pace that you can join in.

We've had people just join in our community rides, whether it's a kid on a BMX for a couple of blocks or an old-timer on a vintage Schwinn who decides to roll with us the entire way, not having any idea what we're about. They just see a whole bunch of black people on bikes, and they just like to join in. So...

HOBSON: Why are you trying to achieve that, though? I mean, I guess that's my main question here, is what is it that you think would be better if we had a world in which a lot more African-Americans were using bikes?

HAWKINS: It's about public life. It creates a different kind of community when you do have people on bikes, right? So when people look to Amsterdam as an example, they're looking at the social fabric. You know, they're - if you want to make a really, a really huge leap, there's also the possibility of affecting, like, violence prevention. You know, there's more eyes on the street.

I used to work for the Better Boys Foundation, and they have an earn-a-bike program. And one of my apprentices was stopped on his way home biking in North Lawndale, and he was basically profiled because they just don't see young black men on bikes.

HOBSON: They're not used to that.

HAWKINS: They're not used to it. And so, you know, for me, I ask the question why aren't they used it, why aren't there more kids biking. You know, why aren't people biking with their kids to school? So there's a lot to be considered, and I think that when you encourage cycling specifically, it also brings up a host of other questions that also need to be addressed.

It brings up questions of livable communities, people's commutes. Why are people spending a disproportionate amount of their income on transportation? And so when we have this conversation around bike share, it's really about how do we bundle that into promoting biking in general in neighborhoods that could benefit from biking.

HOBSON: Well, Eboni Senai Hawkins, who launched the Chicago branch of Red Bike and Green, that's a nationwide group that promotes bicycling in the black community, thank you so much for talking with us.

HAWKINS: You're welcome. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • Eric Herot

    This isn’t a “black” problem, it’s a poor problem.  And if the number of cars on the streets in poor neighborhoods is any indication, it’s not purely a problem of lack of money to buy a bike.  You can buy a pretty nice bike for the cost of a very decrepit car.  It’s partly an image problem, partly a status problem, and partly an infrastructure problem.  If all of your neighbors can afford cars, then having a car is nothing special, and owning a bike becomes a way to distinguish your forward-thinking ways.  But when no one on your street can afford a car, then owning one (and “tricking it out”) becomes a measure of status.  And partly because of the low opinion of bicycling in poor neighborhood (and partly due to lack of public investment in general), poor neighborhoods have some of the worst roads for biking anywhere in the city (also further discouraging bike use).

    But lets talk about this for what it is: A poverty problem, not a race problem.

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