Charlotte B-Cycle puts emphasis on group rides, diverse staff to achieve equity

by: April Corbin, PeopleForBikes equity writer

When the goal is getting people onto bicycles, the best strategy is… getting people onto bicycles. That’s the simple but effective thought process in North Carolina where Charlotte B-Cycle emphasizes group rides as one of its primary forms of community outreach.

Charlotte B-Cycle hosts an annual back to school group ride.

Charlotte B-Cycle hosts an annual back to school group ride.

“We do rides regularly,” explains Dianna Ward, the executive director of the bike share. “I can’t put a number on it, but we partner with people regularly. We’ve formed really good relationships with everyone we can. When people ask, ‘Can we have seven bikes for this or that?’ We say yes.”

A diverse crowd of approximately 130 turned out on August 29 for Charlotte B-Cycle’s third annual back-to-school group ride. The ride focuses primarily on students at the historically black Johnson C. Smith University and the surrounding neighborhoods. Ward estimates that about 90 attendees were students, with the rest consisting of residents from nearby communities who’d heard about the ride over the radio.

She adds that Smith University is a good partner for the bike share’s equity efforts. “The new president has done a lot to diversify the student body, and it’s located in the heart of a in-transition neighborhood.”

Other focused partnerships by Charlotte B-Cycle include a group ride with the local department of transportation to show off a newly installed green lane and a shared promotion with Mecklenburg County to promote walking, busing and biking to the county’s annual picnic. B-Cycle will also soon be partnering with local arts agencies to promote riding bicycles to low-key arts events in the area.

Charlotte B-Cycle Executive Director Dianna Ward. Photos by Michael Hernandez.

Charlotte B-Cycle Executive Director Dianna Ward. Photos by Michael Hernandez.

While none of these events are specifically designed with the low-income or people of color in mind, Ward doesn’t see much difference between “equitable outreach” and “just plain outreach.”

“It’s just about bringing the community in and engaging them,” she says.

More important to Ward than events aimed specifically at target demographics is having a diverse staff from the top down. When that exists, she says, every event can be welcoming to members of different incomes and races.

“We’re able to promote programs easier because we don’t have someone who is talking to people who are completely outside of their own experience,” she says. “If there’s nobody (who can relate to the people you’re trying to reach) in a significant place of power, that’s a problem.”

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write april@peopleforbikes.org