City Desk

Biking While Black?

"It's not that deep," says Veronica Davis. "All I said was black people don't like the cold."

But the blog post in which the Greater Greater Washington contributor (and Life in the Village blogger) made that observation brought on some criticism. "I was basically called racist," Davis says. In her Monday post, Davis sought to explain why Capital Bikeshare usage is low east of the Anacostia River. Davis, who lives in Hillcrest, wrote the piece in response to a Bikeshare trip map that showed the service wasn't popular on her side of the river.

Responding to the map, some commenters had suggested moving the Bikeshare stations. An African American, Davis pointed to various reasons the community's majority-black population might not have taken to the big red two-wheelers. She listed things like "start-up costs"—the bike renting program requires a $75 annual fee—and topography: "East of the river also has many steep hills, making bicycling along some major corridors more difficult."

The last reason on her list, "seasonal usage," prompted Davis to write a sentence that eventually earned a strikethrough from GGW editors: "In general, African-Americans, which make up the large majority of the residents east of the river, are averse to colder temperatures."

A number of the 120 comments that followed took offense to Davis' assertion, which she followed up with a salient point about the futility of introducing Bikeshare stations during the latter part of the year. "Because relatively few residents were cyclists prior to the introduction of CaBi, the chances that the uninitiated bike rider is going to start cycling in late fall or the winter are relatively low."

As an African American who appreciates both a good cold snap and bikes, I'm not sure about being genetically predisposed to shunning Bikeshare stations during the cold months. In fact, as long as there's a bike available and no snow on the ground, I prefer pedaling to riding public transit.

But Davis explains she wasn't positing a scientific theory when she mentioned African Americans not liking the chill. It's just something that's said among black people, she says: "If I had said that to an entirely black audience, no one would have been offended." The small piece of controversy might have overshadowed the core of Davis' piece, which, more than simply explaining a lack of enthusiasm for Bikeshare East of the River, sought to combat an emerging perception Davis doesn't like– that District blacks are and will remain anti-bike.

One thing that may solve the east of the river Bikeshare problem is adding more stations, as opposed to taking them away. As Washington City Paper's Lydia Depillis points out: "The more stations there are, the more valuable the whole system becomes to its users, since they can access bikes in more places and get closer to where they need to go." According to Davis, currently there are 11 stations east of the Anacostia, with two out of commission.

Another thing that might help marketing Bikeshare to a community with fewer resources than the population as a whole is taking pains to convince potential riders their foray into bicycling won't end with them reeling from a financial hit. Besides the annual fee, a user can end up being charged $1,000 if a bike goes missing.

Photo by James D. Schwartz via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    Whether it was supposed to be deep or not, a completely unsubstantiated statement like "black people don't like the cold" in an article otherwise full of thoughtful, reasoned, and evidence-supported arguments is just stupid.

    Sure, no one might have been offended if she said that to an audience of all black people. That doesn't make the statement true.

    I also don't think anyone really took much offense to it on GGW either. What bothered me about it was the complete lack of evidence. Davis posited this as a reason why biking isn't popular in a particular part of town. It was sloppy and unnecessary.

  • MsV

    @AlexB... I apologized for the wording. I was just trying to offer hypothesis. It wasn't that deep in the sense it dididn't warrant the names I've been called. Sloppy journalism is one thing. Being called an idiot, racist, stupid is something else. It was a lesson learned for me.

  • sigmagrrl

    WHY do black journalists think they speak for every black person???

  • noodlez

    SHE WAS MAKING A POINT AND IS WASNT THAT DEEP. WHITE FOLK NEED TO STOP PRETENDING THAT THERE IS NOT A RACIAL DIVIDE IN THIS COUNTRY JUST BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN LIBERTIES ON THE BACK END OF THIS DEAL. I WOULD BE WILLING TO WAGER THOSE SAME FOLK WHO CALLED HER RACIST ARE THE SAME ONES WHO WANT TO DO AWAY WITH AFFIRMATIVE ACTION.

    NO THERE IS NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT HER CLAIM BUT SHE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT "BLACK PEOPLE DONT LIKE THE COLD". AS A BLACK PERSON IM SURE IF YOU TOOK THE TIME TO POLL BLACK FOLK VS. ANY OTHER ETHNIC GROUP THAT BLACK PEOPLE BY FAR WOULD SUPPORT HER CLAIM.

    WE DISDAIN COLD WEATHER IT’S IN OUR DNA HOWEVER WE TOLERATE IT AND ADAPT TO IT DUE TO OUR CIRCUMSTANCES.

    TO HER POINT WHY WOULD FOLK OF LESS MEANS PAY $75+ TO RENT A BIKE FROM THE MAN LET ALONE DISCLOSE THEIR PERSONAL INFO TO 'EM WHEN THEY COULD PAY $100 TO PURCHASE A NEW BIKE FROM THE STORE OR EVEN LESS TO PURCHASE ONE FROM A PAWN SHOP AND EVEN LESS FROM THE LOCAL NEIGHBORHOOD JUNKIE.

    CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF BLACK FOLK LOVE CYCLING AND BIKING. I FOR ONE DONT BELIEVE THE AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION WAS WORTH THE TROUBLE. EVEN WITH ALL THE BIKE LANES AND DESIGNATED INTERSECTIONS RIDERS WEST OF THE RIVER WAS GETTING TAGGED BY VEHICLES AND PEDESTRIANS SLEEPWALKING WAS HASSLED. I HAVENT BEEN TO S.E. LATELY BUT I WONDER HOW MANY BIKE LANES THEY HAVE COMPARED TO WEST OF THE RIVER?

    ***********************************************************************
    SPEAKING ABOUT ONE THING TALKING BOUT ANOTHER. THIS SUBJECT IS ONE OF THE REASONS I HAD A PURE HATRED FOR THE PAST MAYOR. HERE YOU HAVE A "BROTHA" WHO IS AN AVID CYCLIST AND HEATH NUT, WHO WAS THE LEADER OF A PREDOMINANTLY AFRICAN-AMERICAN CITY, WHOSE CHILDREN SUFFER FROM AILMENTS DUE TO LACK OF EXERCISE AND AN UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLE BUT YET HE CHOSE TO IGNORE THE OPPORTUNITY THAT PRESENTED ITSELF.

    INSTEAD OF HAVING MR COLNAGO GIVE HIM A $10K BIKE HE SHOULD'VE REQUESTED A DONATION OF BIKES FOR A START UP CYCLING PROGRAM. INSTEAD OF PANDERING TO LAZY ASS FOLK WHO DONT WANT TO WALK THEIR DOGS HE SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT $400K WORTH OF BIKE HELMETS TO PROMOTE BIKE SAFETY AMONG ALL DC CHILDREN. INSTEAD OF HAVING POLICE SHUT OFF TRAFFIC JUST FOR HIM HE SHOULD'VE PLANNED A DC CYCLING DAY AND HAD TRAFFIC SHUT DOWN SO ALL FOLK COULD'VE ENJOYED A DECENT RIDE. MILLIONS TO MOTEN SHOULD'VE GONE TO TRAIN SOME YOUNG FOLK AS BIKE MECHANICS. ONE MAY STICK WITH IT AND OPEN UP HIS/HER OWN SHOP ONEDAY.

  • Typical DC BS

    @noodlez: YOUR BEST POST YET!

  • drez

    "black people don't like the cold"
    Psst- neither do most white people.
    duh

  • SEis4ME

    Alex, considering the comments, I can't see how you concluded that people on GGW didn't take offense to V's statement. Her statement has since been clarified, over, over, and over again and here you are still attacking.

  • Michigan Wolverine

    What the story lacks is an analysis of the difficulty to bike from East of the River, specifically Ward 7, to the Main Land (West of the River). There are no bike lanes anywhere East of the River and traversing the Benning, East Capitol or Pennsylvania Ave. bridges requires you to be certain you have paid for your cemetery plot and headstone because it is a death wish to bike across those bridges where no bike lanes exist. Crossing the Benning bridge, while there is a walkway for a portion of the bridge, once you get over the hump there is no way to peddle to safety--you are just dumped into the middle of the roadway with motor vehicles that weigh hundreds of pounds more than you and your bike. Same holds true for the Pennsylvania Ave and East Capitol bridges. Biking safety is a major reason for low Bikeshare ridership East of the River.

    What is needed for East of the River residents is the ability to safely bike to work or play West of the River as well as within the confines of Wards 7 and 8.

    Regarding the "Blacks don't like the cold" comment, as a Black native of Detroit who has weathered more snow and cold weather in one month of a winter season in Michigan than in Washington in my 25 years living in DC -- I don't know what Black people the writer is talking about. Many of my Black fellow Midwesterners (including the folks living in the White House currently) don’t think it is cold until the thermometer reaches below 30 degrees and many of us don't put on snow boots until the snow reaches 5 or more inches. Personally, I can’t stand wearing a coat and don’t put one on until it’s in the twenties and the Nordic bloodline in my family is minute. I guess Ms. Davis hasn’t met Black people who don’t freak out and hide in our homes at the mere mention of flurries and wonder why a city and region has to shut down. Washington, it snows here every year at least 3 times—get over it and keep it moving. As an avid biker, I'd rather bike than try to find a vehicle parking space West of the River, it just is not safe.

    Our Councilmembers, Mayor and city planners need to provide bike lanes East of the River instead of concentrating on lanes only in Wards 1-6. I have pointed this out to them on several occasions at community meetings. That will increase the Bikeshare users East of the River and aide in greening our environment while helping residents attain a healthier lifestyle.

  • seDCdude

    I have to agree with NOODLEZ as usual, but more relevant is the fact that I LOVE THE COLD! So much so that I prefer sweats and thermals to over coats!

    Ayy noodlez, DC rec and parks used to have a bicycle and skate reserve fit for a king!! Full of donated/purchased bicycles and a director to oversee their dispersal!

    Michigan Wolverine, why would you take that rt when clearly you could access the bike path from benning rd thru RFK/armory reserve lot, which has a trail that leads you straight to pennsylvania avenue and anacostia park??

    Nothing racist here and more importantly NOT THAT IMPORTANT either!

    Those bikes are hideous!

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    @MsV

    Indeed, the line didn't warrant personal attacks on you. The rest of the post had some great ideas.

  • Michigan Wolverine

    seDCdude--that's part of the problem. Why would I take the route you outlined that takes me clear out of my way when I am trying to commute to the Main Land in the morning in an expedient fashion. I don't see Ward 6 residents having to zig zag and detour to get around because there are dedicated bike paths in Ward 6 and none in Ward 7 or 8.

  • noodlez

    UHH Michigan Wolverine TOLERATING IT AND LIKING IT ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.

    YOUR "D-TOWN" STORIES ARE TOUCHING BUT AT NO POINT IN YOUR POST DID YOU MENTION YOU LIKE THE COLD. HELLO!!! YOU ADAPTED TO THE WEATHER BECAUSE OF YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES.

    "I guess Ms. Davis hasn’t met Black people who don’t freak out and hide in our homes at the mere mention of flurries and wonder why a city and region has to shut down." WHERE YOU GET THAT SHIT FROM? THAT IS NOT A BLACK OR WHITE THING. ITS A "DC THANG" YOU WOULDNT UNDERSTAND BEING FROM MICHIGAN.

    ALSO COLD WEATHER AND SNOW ARE ALSO TWO DIFFERENT ISSUES.

  • seDCdude

    Ayy wolverine, look'a here, I'm only addressing THE OBVIOUS here....

    "is an analysis of the difficulty to bike from East of the River, specifically Ward 7, to the Main Land (West of the River). There are no bike lanes anywhere East of the River and traversing the Benning, East Capitol or Pennsylvania Ave"

    Your words not mine! I've been cycling from mlk avenue to Gtwn, the capitol, DOWNTWN, UPTOWN, eastern mrkt (HINES), the WARF, ANACOSTIA prk, C & O canal and Mt Vernon trail since 90 my friend w/o incident or COMPLETE bike paths!

    The problem is you newcomers not "adapting" or even being able to, to what native washingtonians have had to endure, accept and make do of FOR YEARS!

    Sounds like you need a seeing eye dog and some training wheels my man!!

  • oboe

    MsV,

    I also don't think anyone really took much offense to it on GGW either.

    There is a small, highly vocal minority at GGW who are basically assholes. They saw the opportunity to attack a black woman as "a racist" in the classic Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh tradition. I thought it was a thoughtful and brave piece, and you should get credit for putting yourself out there in what was always going to be a controversial topic.

  • http://greatergreaterwashington.org/vdavis/ MsV

    @Noodlez.... LMBO. And I thought I kept it real. You bring up very interesting points. Washington Parks and People has a bike program for youth at Marvin Gaye Park in Ward 7. It's an after school program where they learn bike safety and how to repair their bikes. They also take the kinds on long bike rides on some of the hike/bike trails.

    What if this model was duplicated in not only EOTR, but other parts of the City as well? It would: 1) give the kids something to do after school - as my grandmother would say "An idle mind is the devil's playground" 2) get the kids moving which in the long run reduces health care costs and 3)could be a driver to getting their parents biking.

    @AlexB and @Oboe... Thanks guys. I really didn't take it that hard. I'm just glad GGW provides the opportunity to share EOTR through my eyes.

  • Pingback: Jess biking to find organ donors | Dirt Bikes Zone

  • WhoSaidWhat?

    I would love to bike to work on Capital Hill. However, I can't figure out how to get over the river, safely. I only have two feasible options, the benning road bridge and that is quite a hill for me (I'm a newbie to biking) or riding all the way down to Penn Ave, but getting over the Sousa bridge is like taunting death. Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thanks!

...