Black Men And Barriers To Cycling
Talk by Akwesi Osei of We Are Possible: CCC AGM 2023
Akwesi carried out research through the City of Westminster, Active Travel Academy, supported by Professor Rachel Aldred.
During the pandemic cycling rates “were up as people didn’t know what else to do”.
There was little available research on marginalised groups; most came from the US and none from the UK on race, ethnicity and mobility.
Akwesi interviewed people from focus groups consisting of both mixed abilities and ages, and also on a group of all black men in London, aged from 22 to 60, conducting exhaustive and thorough interviews with set themes.
BAME men represent 1.2% cycling mode share in London, while White men make up 3.8% (with 1.4% for White women). More generally, London’s cycling mode share has doubled in the last twenty years.
Status and class played a big part in the debate about cars versus cycles; if you were cycling you were seen as ‘not having stepped up in the world’. Cycling was widely regarded unfavourably (Akwesi’s mum still asks him “why he hasn’t got a car!”
Social upward mobility and peer pressure were strong disincentives to cycling, along with family image and the idea of what a cyclist looks like.
Cycling was generally viewed as for ‘white men in lycra’ while black men were considered not able to afford a bike.
Of Londoners working in low-paying jobs, 19% were white and 32% black, so the ‘Cycle To Work’ scheme was not likely to be applicable.
To see a black male on a mountain bike had negative connotations; with perceptions of ‘riding a stolen bike’ or viewed as possibly being a drug dealer. The issue of ‘Stop and Search’ was exacerbated by cycling.
The Stop and Search stats for London:
Men under 35 were also more likely to be stopped, so this added to the feeling that cycling was not something appropriate for mobility.
Black men cycling would not be inclined to jump red lights, which would potentially draw more attention to themselves in the public space while the issue of racism was still an issue; while affluent white access was felt to be another deterrent.
Greater diversity was more apparent amongst delivery riders in East London, especially Walthamstow, whereas South London with a higher black population was cited as having few cycle lanes and no Santander bikes.
(Note: this could be about to change with Lambeth’s recently heralded Kerbside Policy and steady roll out of LTNs: SE).
Akwesi’s research found a prevalence of the idea that as a black male cyclist you were ‘visible but invisible’, meaning that you would stand out more because there were so few other black cyclists. This was felt to also create further racial bias in drivers, subjecting riders to intimidation such as close passes.
Some positive signs have emerged however, with groups of riders such as Black Cyclists Network, riding out to places such as Epping Forest.
Akwesi’s question of how to get more black men cycling, was responded to with the need for black role models to go into the heart of communities – visiting or teaching, in schools, universities, barbershops and bike shops and not least creating safe infrastructure for cycling, since this still remains the main barrier to getting more people of all types of Londoners to choose to travel by bike.
Link to the published paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966692323000480