GObike News

November 8, 2019

Untokening: A Conference About Mobility Justice


At GObike, we strive to create positive impacts on: health, environment, streets and quality of life. We do this by promoting alternative transportation options. But to make the case that these alternatives are actually good for everyone, we need to understand the communities where we try to make things better.

By Rebecca Reilly, Operations and Outreach Director

I recently attended the Untokening Conference in Durham, NC, to get a bit closer to understanding communities I haven’t been a part of, was not raised in, and whose members have very different experiences with infrastructure than me, a white woman of privilege.


For two days, session after session, I reflected on how I could do better connecting with the communities GObike does not have a deep presence in. On a bike tour of Durham, conducted by two Durham-area natives, Derrick Beasley and Marcella Camara, we were introduced to the once thriving, “Black Wall Street.”  My initial observation was that it was no longer Black. It seemed like a typical trendy, bougie part of town. They told us about its proud history and the painful eviction of the Black residents and businesses by showing us scant artifacts that remained.


In Mobility Justice circles, this phenomenon is referred to “Colonization.”  Either forcefully or underhandedly, white developers grow enamored with the real estate potential of an area, and then methodically make that area inhospitable to communities of color. They then swoop in, buying properties for a pittance. Mobility justice plays a big role, whether it is the criminalization of turnstile jumping or the concentration of bike lanes in white neighborhoods, there is measurable evidence of mobility that is hostile or overly regulatory of brown bodies.


The biggest thing I took away from the conference was a feeling of insecurity.  Being a minority at that particular conference and a member of a privileged class, I felt it was incumbent on me to keep my mouth shut and really listen to what people had to say.  Reflecting on the conversations, I was impressed by a conference that seemed devoid of competition and “one-upping.” 


The feel was one of elevating each other’s project, each other’s thoughts, and each other’s organization. It was generous of spirit and unconditionally supportive. I felt like I was getting a master class in building a new innovative community. The majority of the participants and presenters—people of color— felt that they weren’t getting mobility justice, and they were working with every fiber of their being to create a more viable transportation picture for themselves and future generations.


It was a challenge to the way I viewed the world.  As a bike advocate, I live and breathe my desire to bring more people out on the road.  I know that the more of us that there are, the safer it will get. I feel far more safe riding on the road in Buffalo and cities around the US than I did twenty years ago. That is a direct result of more cyclists plying the roads. Still though, safety means two entirely different things to white people and people of color. I have never been pulled over for not having a bell on my bike, but a Black boy in Dallas, just a week before the conference, ended up dead from his encounter with the police.


Jesi Harris of Mobility Justice, a not for profit in California had a great construct for understanding the perspective disparity:

  • Decolonization:  Ensuring that long time residents are protected and have a say in how infrastructure is developed.
  • Decongest:  Ensuring access to all, not allowing the primacy of structures that have created barriers to access.
  • Decriminalize:  Ensure freedom to move without suspicion or threat from the police.
  • Dignify:  Protection for marginalized street users.
  • Dream:  Ensure the right of marginalized communities to envision their own future.

Lucky for me, I met and hung out with Olatunji Oboi Reed. Oboi was one of the original founders of Slow Roll Chicago.  He kindly gave me a window into how GObike can factor in and actively engage communities of color, better. I asked him about his work with Equiticity, he shared that racism is endemic and systemic, and therefore the remedy must also be endemic and systemic.  Most important, every group conversation became an opportunity to learn more, Oboi never ran out of questions or curiosity.


GObike has good friends in this community. We're expanding faster than any of us could have ever imagined. But we have a long way to go before transportation is truly equitable. So a good first step is radical inclusion, understanding our partners needs better, and working together with them like demanding accountability for infrastructure projects like on Bailey Avenue.  Our good friend, East Side Bike Club founder and Buffalo United Front President, George Johnson, has spoken often on the subject.  


We watch the city, we know about the meetings, but we’re going to share this information with people who really need to speak up about the terrible state of their neighborhoods, and together we can all hold the city accountable. 


We might not do it right, but I for one, want to get caught trying. 

Untokening: A Conference About Mobility Justice