The first step in achieving equitable bike share: Acknowledging the elephants

by: April Corbin, PeopleForBikes equity writer

Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler. Photo by: Serena Liu

Tamika Butler. Photo by: Serena Lieu

Sometimes the most difficult part of a journey is the first step.

Within the first few minutes of the Better Bike Share Conference in Philadelphia last week, opening speaker Tamika Butler of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition challenged the crowd with a question: How are we supposed to talk about equity when we don’t even have a shared definition half the time?

Her question highlighted just how much work there is to be done when it comes to equity, especially in the world of active transportation. What equity means to city planners often differs from what it means to social justice advocates. The first step in achieving equity is defining what that actually means for your communities.

Beginning that conversation can be uncomfortable, especially for those new to the equity space, but Butler offered some advice on how people can begin:

First: Remember that “ally” is more than a noun.

“That’s the mistake so many people make,” she told the crowd. “If you want to do this work, if you want to be in this space, you can’t just say you are an ally. Somebody won’t recognize you as an ally unless you are doing the work. … You might have a really fly Facebook profile, but you are not an ally, friend. If you want to be an ally, you have to do something.”

And what’s the first thing you should do?

Recognize your privilege.

As a queer woman of color, Butler knows she is clearly a minority, but she also acknowledges the privilege she does have. She is highly educated and English was her first language. “That opens up so many doors,” she says. “Realize your privilege. Don’t be fragile about it. Own it.”

Said another way: Be unapologetically yourself.

“Don’t try to be down if you’re not down,” says Butler. “Be a nerd who’s not down. When you are unapologetically yourself, sometimes that’s at your own expense. Sometimes when you’re unapologetically yourself, it is hard. It is draining.”

However, it is necessary in order to have honest dialogue that leads to change.

Butler’s final piece of advice needs no further explanation: Love yourself.

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 thePeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write april@peopleforbikes.org