March 15, 2019
Last month, we interviewed Jalonda Hill, founder of Colored Girls Bike Too, a group seeking to normalize biking among women of color in marginalized communities. Jalonda outlined many points in her interview on existing transportation inequities and barriers to travel in communities of color, which are included below.
—Guest editorial by Jalonda Hill
“My ideal future for biking is to stay committed and ensure that I find creative ways to incorporate biking into my day to day activities, despite life changes. Additionally, I would like to advocate for underrepresented populations who are also a part of the bike community but are consistently left out of the conversation by lifting up:
- The disparities in access to infrastructure, bikes, equipment, tools, etc.;
- How biking for many is a necessity while for others it is an option;
- Making programs for free bikes more visible and accessible;
- Biking should never be used as a tool to take poverty tours; and
- Parking rate increases downtown may only encourage the use of alternative transport for those with disposable incomes.”
Though it has been asserted that the Downtown Parking Access Plan was well-researched and sensible, this report does not adequately consider how the increase in parking costs harm poor communities, especially poor communities of color.
Although Colored Girls Bike Too (CGBT) supports encouraging alternative modes of transport, CGBT is keenly aware of the barriers to utilizing alternative modes of transportation in low-income communities of color— barriers including stigmatization, disproportionate health complications, inconvenient and unreliable Metro schedules, and unaffordable Metro costs. More importantly, CGBT acknowledges the long history of alternative transportation usage in communities of color that goes as far back as the Montgomery bus boycotts and the reliance of the Underground Railroad to access freedom.
Poor communities of color do not need to be encouraged to use alternative transportation because folks in this community have depended on alternative transportation, despite the unaffordable costs of a bike, bus or train, for decades. Additionally, alternative transportation has served as the only option for people of color because driving can be costly, dangerous and inaccessible. Unlike people with disposable incomes or who qualify as middle class or higher, this makes alternative transportation mandatory, not optional, for poor people of color.
It is naive to believe that increasing parking costs downtown will encourage poor people of color to use alternative transportation. While instead, it would appear that white folks need that encouragement. For example, in 2016, PPG reported that “…in the City of Buffalo, 21% of black, 15% of Hispanic, and 26% of Asian and Pacific Islander workers commute by transit, compared to only 5% of whites.” With that said, raising parking costs will only make it more difficult for those of low-income who do drive to access Buffalo's downtown, and will further penalize poor people of color for simply driving while poor. Read the full report here.
Drivers of color in New York State are more likely to be ticketed, charged excessive fines and fees, arrested, incarcerated, and to have their cars impounded at traffic stops. Examples of these biased practices include the checkpoint system implemented on the east side of Buffalo over the past four years, a system which still quietly persists in the City of Buffalo. The 2018 lawsuit charging the City of Buffalo with excessively ticketing people of color provides these striking statistics: “drivers who live in majority Black neighborhoods in Buffalo are eight times more likely to receive multiple traffic tickets on a single stop than those living in majority white neighborhoods, and four times more likely to have their license suspended for not paying tickets.” Read more about this here.
Raising parking costs will add to these hardships by increasing the likelihood that drivers of color will receive parking tickets—tickets that many low-income people of color will struggle to pay. Failure to pay for a parking ticket, or any citation, can negatively impact credit scores, result in the loss of one's driver’s license, the booting of a vehicle, and incarceration. Increasing parking cost may also serve as a barrier for folks who need access to social services benefits like food stamps, shelter, and other public assistance benefits. Not to mention the manifestations of Buffalo’s one-sided resurgence, like the ice-skating rink in the heart of downtown. Thus, it should be arranged that the parking rate increase only applies to those who can afford it.
CGBT supports increasing the number of parking spots available downtown, improving the digital and parking infrastructure, and encouraging alternative modes of transport in Buffalo. However, with these changes, the City of Buffalo and advocates for transportation equity and inclusion must prioritize the needs of Buffalo’s most vulnerable citizens, many of whom have lived in the City of Buffalo for decades before anyone was even speculating on its resurgence. This means that the revenue raised from the increase in downtown parking costs should not only pay for the expenses listed in the City of Buffalo’s Downtown Parking Access Plan but should be viewed as an opportunity to FINALLY provide those of low income, especially poor communities of color, with affordable transportation and parking options. This includes exempting those of low income from the increase in parking costs downtown while also providing free or subsidized passes to those of low income to access downtown via the Metro.
Every single day, someone in the City of Buffalo is ticketed on an NFTA train because they cannot afford the fare, or there is a mother in downtown Buffalo who is at risk of receiving a parking ticket because she needs to access benefits at the Erie County Department of Social Services but can’t afford to park. Experiences such as these do not represent access at all. Let us use the Downtown Parking Access Plan as an opportunity to redress the harm caused by transportation inequities in the City of Buffalo while also making downtown and the entire City of Buffalo, affordably accessible for all!
For more information on Colored Girls Bike Too please visit the Facebook group page: “Colored Girls Bike Too” or follow the Instagram page at @coloredgirlsbiketoo
At GObike Buffalo, we seek to support the development of an equitable transportation system in the City of Buffalo that meets all of our community members’ needs. We continue to support the Downtown Parking Access Plan, specifically pricing parking in accordance with demand and basic economic principles, as demonstrated to be best practice throughout the world. Providing abundantly-available free or below market parking hurts our entire community and is in direct conflict with creating an equitable, prosperous city; encouraging use of alternative transportation; and supporting people and environment health goals, as demonstrated by a myriad of empirical data (see How Parking Requirements Hurt the Poor and Why Cars and Cities are a Bad Match).
However, many of the points discussed above are frequently overlooked during transportation planning, allowing our transportation network to continue to be divided. Creating a transportation network that equitably supports all of our community members while also supporting the health, economy and growth of our city is perhaps the most complex task we face as a city but by looking at all perspectives and reminding ourselves we are all in this together, we hope to uncover solutions that work for everyone.