Biking to work a few days ago in Boulder, I was greeted by signs proclaiming that “bike lives matter” along a controversial section of bicycle lanes on Folsom Street. Taped to the bollards separating the bike lanes from the automobile lanes, these signs raised serious questions about the tactics of a bicycle advocacy community that I generally support.
Whoever put them up took ”Black Lives Matter,” the rallying cry of a national movement against systemic racism—against the ongoing blatant disregard for black life—and modified it to serve the purposes of a struggle for about one mile of protected bicycle lane where a separate bicycle lane continues to exist.
Even more frustrating is that these signs appear on a street on which bicycle-auto crashes have accounted for 4 serious injuries and zero fatalities from 2012-2014, according to city data.
Intentional or not, the adoption of the phrase “bike lives matter” links bicycle advocacy and racial justice activism in a manner that is dismissive and opportunistic.
The signs send a pernicious message to our black and brown brethren in Boulder. Furthermore, they suggest misplaced priorities to the broader bicycling community and to the world at large.
Do we think that updating bicycle infrastructure in Boulder is as urgent a social issue as overhauling the conditions that led a white police officer in Cincinnati to shoot an unarmed black man, Sam Dubose, in the head at point blank range? That losing bollards between bicyclists and cars on Folsom is as oppressive as the pervasive threat that a police officer might inexplicably escalate a traffic stop, as happened in the incident that ended with the death of a black woman, Sandra Bland, in jail?
In our minds, is Boulder City Council’s rolling back of right-sizing as much of a municipal tragedy as the violence that Baltimore police officers inflicted on Freddie Gray, who died in police custody?
Yes, we want safer streets for children to cycle on in Boulder, that’s for sure — but does the removal of a short stretch of buffering between cars and bikes really compare to the prejudices that led to the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by police in Cleveland? I hope the chorus’s response is a resounding “no.
To make bicycle advocacy’s message “bike lives matter” is to trivialize the injustices that have led to the organizing of #blacklivesmatter over the past two years.
#blacklivesmatter is not a nifty slogan ripe for the taking, ready for adaptation and deployment in a new form for whatever issue seems relevant right now. #BLM stems from anger, sadness and rage over the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, John Crawford, Renisha McBride, Jessica Hernandez and countless others. #BLM honors these people, along with their families and friends, and it registers the pain and injustices they have suffered.
We might do well to recognize that #BLM is, in some ways, a movement for transportation and mobility justice, one that brings the quest for protected bicycle lanes into somewhat clearer perspective. How many of the black men and women listed above—not to mention the black trans women who are subjected to even higher levels of violence—were just trying to get somewhere or to enjoy public space when they were stopped, harassed and/or killed?
We might even bring this question about mobility and public space to bear on our reflections about Boulder, where arrest rates for African Americans are considerably higher than they are for other demographic groups. And even then, we might still ”mourn” our protected bike lanes –an action I can get behind.
But to adopt a slogan like “Bike Lives Matter” is to make light of the ongoing conditions of racism and police brutality throughout the United States. These conditions not only interfere disproportionately with the everyday movements of black people but also end too frequently in excessive use of force and the loss of life.
So, we can—and must—find a better way to circulate the message about bicycle lanes in ways that don’t co-opt methods from #BLM.
Protected bike lanes now. Prioritize Bikes. Right-size Folsom. Boulderites for Better Bicycling. Safe Streets For Cycles. Make Cycling Safe. Whatever.
Just retire “Bike Lives Matter” before it catches on.
Alex Corey is a doctoral candidate and Lab Manager of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Jim Crocker, Creative Commons, Flickr.