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Author: Taz Loomans (Subversiveness Columnist)

Fun for everybody! A 7-point action plan for a more diverse Pedalpalooza

Fun for everybody! A 7-point action plan for a more diverse Pedalpalooza

2014 Bike Fair-27

At the Multnomah County Bike Fair, 2014.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

This post is by columnist Taz Loomans.

Not long ago, I thought more bike lanes would save the world. In fact, my passion for a better environment for bicyclists and pedestrians was one of the reasons I moved to Portland.

Since then I’ve become disillusioned with the bike advocacy movement, largely because of its lack of racial and ethnic diversity.

According to the recent CNN article by comedian/activist W. Kamau Bell, called Gentrifying Portland: A tale of two cities, “Portland is 76 percent white. That’s a lot, for two reasons. 1) According to the 2010 census, the United States is 72% white, so Portland is whiter than America. 2) Portland is considered a major city. And we don’t associate major cities with whiteness,” he says.

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Taz Loomans.

I never associated the bike and ped advocacy movement with whiteness until I moved to Portland. I always assumed that progressive policies like better bike infrastructure and racial diversity would go hand in hand. But that’s not necessarily true, as I’ve learned in Portland.

“As non-diverse as Portland is, the typical bike fun ride is even less diverse ethnically, unfortunately,” admits bike fun organizer Chris McCraw.

Carl Larson, a fellow bike advocate, echoes this point. “There still seems to be a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in Portland’s bike fun,” he said. “More so than in the city’s biking population as a whole.”

The problem is not that people of color aren’t interested in bike infrastructure.

“Bike infrastructure is critical,” said Sam Baraso, a co-leader of the Environmental Professionals of Color and a senior policy analyst at Multnomah County. “It goes a long way to making cyclists’ daily commutes that much safer. While I’m plenty vigilant, I feel much more confident and safer biking here than other places I’ve cycled.”

“Bike infrastructure is super important to me,” said Kirk Rea, volunteer coordinator at The City Repair Project. “At the highest level, I see bike use as a powerful green technology that can reduce our negative impact on our environment. At smaller scales, bike infrastructure has the benefits of recreation, or play, and can help our health or livability. As people of color we need as many pro-health options as possible, as we statistically have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.”

Yet people of color seem largely absent from bike fun — a major outlet of bike activism. So what? you might ask. How is race even an issue in bike advocacy anyway?

2014 Bike Fair-10

Carl Larson.

Larson reminds us that “bike fun isn’t just fun, it’s a powerful advocacy tool, too. If [bike fun] events were more diverse, we would likely see faster, better supported, and more equitable changes to our streets.”

Rujuta Gaonkar, Program Manager of the Health Equity Initiative at Multnomah County Health Department, said race matters in bike advocacy because “when I think about all that I’ve heard with the bike lanes that went in on N. Williams, it’s clear that the people living in the corridor, who are some of the most significantly impacted by the changes that resulted from putting in bike lanes, weren’t even consulted when that endeavour was taken. How can the movement adequately take into consideration how biking and relationships to biking might look different in different communities if it is overwhelmingly white?”

“Infrastructure and equity in active transportation go hand in hand,” said Lale Santelices, the Community Cycling Center’s former collaborations manager. “The people and places that would benefit from more transportation options are often times the people and places that have less access to options and live in the most remote areas of the city.”

Rea agrees and says that “People of color have typically been left out of decision making when it comes to urban development, even when our neighborhoods are affected, and thus have experienced gentrification. Further developments need to be installed with care if we are to buy in.” Without a racially diverse group of people at the decision-making table, the bike advocacy movement won’t be able to serve diverse communities effectively.

Because Portland as a city is so white, cultivating diversity in any advocacy movement is hard work, but not impossible. The first step is to recognize the problem and acknowledge that not all is well. As Bell writes about Portland — and what can be said about bike advocacy in Portland — “Everything looks right, but something is definitely wrong.” McCraw agrees. “I think we have a lot of things to work on [in bike fun] – inclusion of younger and older riders as well as poorer and richer, and non-white,” he said.

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Hammercise Ride, 2010.

The second step is to talk about it. One of the biggest hurdles I’ve found in Portland is the lack of willingness to openly talk about race issues among the white population. Noticing the lack of racial diversity in bike advocacy and bike fun and talking about it is an essential first step in making a change.

The third step is to take responsibility. Portland faces a unique problem with race because it is generally very liberal and progressive in its politics yet it lacks in racial diversity. Because of this juxtaposition, there tends to be some amount of passivity among the white liberal population about racial and ethnic diversity.

Bell writes, “Almost to a person they had the same type of reaction when I brought up Portland’s (to me) shocking lack of diversity. It was something to the effect of…Hipster – “YAY, PORTLAND!” Me – “Where are all the black people?” Hipster – “Oh yeah” Hipster looks down at their feet until I go away.”

Seven things anybody can do to help

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Carolina Iraheta Gonzalez, Lale Santelices and Elizabeth Quiroz get ready for Mujeres en Movimiento’s ‘Sundress Sunday’ ride.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The only way to make progress around the issue of diversity in bike advocacy is to take responsibility for it and actively recruit people of color into bike advocacy and bike fun. Which leads me to the next step.

Take action! Here are seven ways how you can be active about bringing racial and ethnic diversity to your next bike ride or bike advocacy effort:

1. Baraso suggests: “Build relationships with people of color organizations, and do so long before you have something [like a bike ride] in mind so that it comes out of the relationship.” Rea emphasizes that “Leaders from various communities need to be at planning tables with leaders of bike fun.”

2. Priti Shah, Finance Director and Event Coordinator at The City Repair Project suggests: “Have signage in different languages. Make promo materials (photos, videos) of people of color on bikes. Help organizations that work with diverse ethnicities organize a bike ride/bike tour.”

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At the Multnomah County Bike Fair, 2014.

3. “Partner with folks in marginalized communities to lead a ride more appealing to non-white-young-CIS-male demographics. I’m thinking things like a SOUL district ride, a ride to the Juneteenth parade, and one that is already on the Pedalpalooza calendar – the refugee ride,” says McCraw.

4. Watch who’s on your invite list. According to the 2010 census, 19.5% of Oregon’s 2014 population over the age of 18 identify as non-white. A good guideline to check if your ride is representative of the general population is to see if about 20% of your invite list includes non-whites. If you’re having trouble reaching this number, it’s time to become proactive and reach out to communities of color through organizations like – Coalition of Communities of Color, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, African American Health Coalition, Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization, Latino Network, and Native American Youth and Family Center, among others, to get the word out about your bike ride to different communities.

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At the Thursday Night Ride, 2016.

5. Larson suggests that people start rides in more racially diverse areas of town. “Don’t start everything at Col. Summers Park, Salmon Springs Fountain, and Velo Cult. If you want to encourage a more diverse crowd to attend your event, consider starting it in a more diverse place like St. Johns, Lents or even Beaverton!”

6. Watch the cliquiness. Often you have to be in the know to feel accepted at bike fun events and people who aren’t aren’t always made to feel welcome. Santalices says that sometimes it feels like “you need to have all the gear, you have to know all the unspoken rules or you feel publicly shamed.”

And Larsen cautions against shaming people for wearing lycra or driving to bike fun events, which can exclude people of color that live in faraway communities. “Giving people a hard time for wearing lycra or driving a car can overlook the cultural and practical reasons people might have for doing both. It’s true: you don’t need special clothes for biking and bikes work great for most errands. It’s also true that some people, including many new immigrants, see biking as a symbol of recently-escaped poverty. They might only bike in lycra because they want community members to know “I’m doing this for fun! …not because I have to,” he says.

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At the Thursday Night Ride, 2016.

7. To make your bike ride more inclusive, don’t forget to go slow or have a sweep at the end of your rides. Rides that are aimed at experienced cyclists capable of doing long distances and going fast are great. But there are a lot of bike rides that aren’t about that, but sometimes bike ride leaders forget that not everyone is as experienced as they are. People new to biking or people who aren’t practiced riders may feel left behind at many rides, so it pays to go slow and have a sweep for those folks.

“If you are a privileged white man, there is nothing wrong with that,” said homeless advocate Ibrahim Mubarak said at the Reclaiming Space Confronting Oppression & Reclaiming Space panel at the 2016 Village Building Convergence. “It matters how you use that privilege. Do you use it to demean and oppress? Or do you use it to uplift?”

Will the current bike advocacy community use its privilege to direct its energy at the same old overwhelmingly white consituency? Or will it use it to actively recruit and seek out inclusion, diversity and equity?

Anti-CRC event at Crank Bicycles-6

Taz Loomans is BikePortland’s subversiveness columnist. Read her introductory column here.

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Column: Whether we like it or not, bicycles are peace machines

Column: Whether we like it or not, bicycles are peace machines

Occupy Portland bike swarm-10-9

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you want to stage a violent protest or go to war, don’t do it on bicycles. Bicycles are inherently non-violent.

Last month, a gang of indignant and ignorant motorcycle riders decided to stage an armed protest outside a Phoenix mosque against the “tyranny of Islam” in response to an incident where two Arizona residents were killed by police outside a Muhammed cartoon-drawing contest in suburban Dallas.

“Armed Bikers Plan Anti-Muslim Protest Outside Arizona Mosque,” headlines read. The protesters strutted in front of the mosque during Friday prayer in t-shirts that said “Fuck Islam” while brandishing firearms.

I was shocked and dismayed by the hate and bigotry. But the headlines got me thinking: what is it about bicycling — in contrast to motorcycling or driving — that is incongruent with what happened in Arizona?

Put another way: what is it about cartoons like this that make us laugh?

There are two parts to a possible answer.

One is that it’s pretty hard to kill someone with a bicycle. The scale and speed of bicycles is intimately connected with the actual ability of the human body, and therefore it is much harder to perpetrate serious violence with it. On the other hand, a vehicle that can go 100 miles an hour gives people enormous power and tremendous force, a force that kills 30,000 Americans every year.

In Arizona, the protesters used their motorcycles as a tool for intimidation. Bicycles aren’t very good at being intimidating. In his book, One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, Zack Furness points out that “in the few cases where adult bicycles are featured in the mainstream media, they are generally portrayed as being far outside the mainstream, most are depicted as childish men, eccentrics, sexually odd character, geeks, and/or financial failures.”

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An organized bicycle ride during the Occupy Portland protest in 2011.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Bicyclists don’t tend to create gangs like Hell’s Angels or Bandidos, which are known to be violent organized crime enterprises. It’s not that bicyclists are passive and ineffective. They engage in serious protest to make change, such as the Critical Mass Ride, which is heavily policed because cyclists are thought to not follow the rules of the road, thereby creating dangerous situations for automobiles. But most bicycle-led protests are associated with creating safer streets for bicycles and on occasion are mobilized in support of various social issues, such as Bike Swarm. Even at its most organized, bicycling is not associated with intimidation and violence.

You know you won’t inadvertently kill or maim anyone while riding your bike. And in the very violent world we live in, that is a big deal.

This is not to say that bicycles are never used for violence. Most recently, a person riding a bicycle shot a 17-year old standing outside of a convenience store in Philadelphia and subsequently fell off his bike. There are similar reports now and then. In 2012, a man biking very recklessly killed another man in a San Francisco crosswalk.

Obviously, it is possible to be violent while riding a bicycle. But as the Philadelphia example shows, it’s not easy. Riding a bicycle takes a lot of concentration and coordination, and so does shooting a gun.The two are rarely done together because it’s just too hard to pull it off physically. Plus, it’s hard to conceal your identity on a bike. Not only are bikes tools of nonviolence; they’re tools of transparency.

The idea of the potential violence of automobiles is particularly poignant in Portland right now after a man lost his leg in a collision with a truck, another lost his life and most recently, two pedestrians who were walking on the sidewalk of the Burnside Bridge were hit by an out of control vehicle, where one person died of his injuries.

Besides the numerous reasons you may bike, you can add this one to them: you know you won’t inadvertently kill or maim anyone while riding your bike. And in the very violent world we live in, that is a big deal.

In addition to that, you can take it to another level. You can embrace the peaceful nature of bicycling and as a person biking become an ambassador of peace on the roads. Certainly, people walking and biking face danger of being killed or maimed. But when we’re on a bike we can’t, and therefore won’t, engage with the latent danger of the automobile with counterforce. Whether we mean to or not, we fight the good fight of safe and peaceful roads by being nonviolent.


Taz Loomans is BikePortland’s subversiveness columnist. Read her introductory column here.

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Column: Fellow bike lovers, we need to talk about car shaming

Column: Fellow bike lovers, we need to talk about car shaming

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Taz Loomans.

Bike elitism can show up in lots of ways. One way is car-shaming.

Do you own a car? If you don’t own a car, do you use car sharing more than once a month? Do you accept rides from people? Do you use a car to travel around the state? Do you use a vehicle when you move to a new home?

If the answer to more than two of these questions is yes, then according to some people, you don’t qualify for the exclusive car-free bike-only club.

Of course, this isn’t a formal club. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t routinely excluded from it.

We can’t start from a place of making car-users wrong. We have to start from a place of making bicycling welcoming, open and appealing to everyone, whether they use cars or not.

Some people will tell you that using cars is immoral and that people who use cars are failing in their duty to a healthier planet. This judgement renders 99 percent of the people in Portland as immoral and failing. Even if those people are living in East Portland, where the bike infrastructure is abysmal and it is simply dangerous to ride your bike. Even if people have to take their kids to a daycare 20 miles away from their work. Even if they are not physically able to ride a bike, or if they don’t even think of it as an option in our car-oriented city.

There are a million reasons why people choose to drive and all of them are legitimate. Yes, all of them. That’s where we have to start as bike advocates. We can’t start from a place of making car-users wrong. We have to start from a place of making bicycling welcoming, open and appealing to everyone, whether they use cars or not.

I’m a red-blooded bike commuter. I don’t own a car. I get around primarily by bike, with the occasional use of bus and car sharing. I myself have been guilty of bike elitism, lording over family and friends who drive a lot how much more sustainable my lifestyle is, how much fitter I am because I bike and how much money I save.

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But I hadn’t been on the receiving end of this moral snobbery until I moved to Portland and encountered folks that are way more bikey than me and whose transportation carbon footprint is a fraction of mine. I finally understood that the sustainabler-than-thou attitude is more damaging to the cause than helpful — simply because like any other elitist ideology, it excludes and elevates a certain group over another.

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
—Brené Brown

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change,” says Brené Brown in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. Shaming other people who use cars is only going to serve to disempower people and ensure that the bicycle movement remains small.

Car shaming excludes those who use cars in their daily lives yet are interested in biking and want to replace some car trips with bike trips. It excludes people who don’t have the wherewithal or interest in bicycling everywhere all the time.

Aren’t these the people we want to welcome to our club, after all?

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(Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

I share the belief that automobile use has caused a variety of damage on our planet, ranging from greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change to obesity to social isolation. And I love riding my bike and the fact that cycling is a kind of antidote to the damage that cars have done on our planet and humanity over the last seven or eight decades.

But as bicycle advocates, we have to hold ourselves to the ethic that we espouse – the ethic of a better world for all. We aren’t going to achieve this by excluding people from our bicycling community that we judge to be not car-free enough.

The only way forward is inclusivity. This means casting a wider net for invites to bike-fun events, it means hosting more events for beginners who don’t own all of the bells and whistles of cycling, and it means welcoming everyone, even if they drive to an event with their bikes. Inclusivity is going to lead to more people riding bikes, which will lead to more bike infrastructure in places like East Portland, which will lead to fewer car trips for people in the outer reaches of the city, which is good for all of us.

Taz Loomans is BikePortland’s subversiveness columnist. Read her introductory column here.

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Introducing BikePortland’s new column: Biking as subversion

Introducing BikePortland’s new column: Biking as subversion

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Please join us in welcoming a new regular contributor to the site: Taz Loomans. Taz, a Portlander whose writing you may have seen on Atlantic Cities, Inhabitat or her own site, will be taking the delicious title of BikePortland’s subversiveness columnist. She’ll be approaching that from many angles, but we suggested she start things rolling with a bit about herself.

The world didn’t want me to bike. Biking was for men, for recreation, or for poor people, but definitely not a mode of transportation for a woman.

That is the message I got from my parents when I started to ride my bike in Phoenix. My dad was born and raised in Tanzania and my mom was raised in Mozambique. We are Muslim Indians by origin. Both my parents come from places where only poor people bike, and even then, women aren’t among them.

Riding a bike became about more than just subverting the way modern life in my city was designed around cars, it also became about transcending some of the ethnic cultural taboos I grew up with.

I started riding a bike for transportation for a lot of the same reasons other people ride, for the environment and to get exercise. As an architect, I was also fascinated with the way I experienced the city in a different way than I did using a car. Plus, I thought that commuting by bike was cool and it held an air of freedom that seemed appealing. I suppose it was freedom from the norm around me in Phoenix, which was living out in the burbs and sitting in traffic for hours.

But riding a bike became about more than just subverting the way modern life in my city was designed around cars, it also became about transcending some of the ethnic cultural taboos I grew up with.

When I looked into the taboo of women riding bikes in some cultures, I found that bike riding was completely banned in Saudi Arabia for women until recently, when women were allowed to ride in restricted recreation areas — and only for entertainment,not for transportation. It is funny, because that was one of the point my parents raised: bike riding seems OK for fun, but not to get around.

So I looked into it some more and found out that the taboo of women riding bikes exists in parts of Iran and Turkey as well, where conservative religious scholars are espousing a different kind of bike technology that would make it more onerous for women to ride a bike. They are looking to build the “Islamic bicycle,” which comes with a boxy contraption designed to hide the lower part of a woman’s body.

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Women are allowed to bike for transportation in Iran, but they are required to dress modestly, which entails strict dress codes that include not showing any part of your body except your face, hands and feet. This makes women nervous to ride, as it is almost impossible to ensure that some part of your body won’t become exposed due to a possible breeze.

Every time I get on my bicycle, there is an extra part of me that exults.

In Pakistan, women who straddle a bicycle or motorcycle seat are shamed as morally-loose women and are culturally discouraged from riding these vehicles, unless they are passengers in the back with both legs off to one side. And the few brave women who ride bikes in Afghanistan are routinely harassed by men passing by and are told that they are bringing shame to their families. Recently, a group of Afghani women formed the Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan aiming to participate in the 2020 Olympics. They have garnered both ridicule and actual threats to their lives and intense admiration among some Afghanis and people around the world.

My family has lived in the United States for over 30 years now, which is almost all of my life. And it is true that the extreme restrictions and taboo against women riding bikes in other countries has only showed up as a minor protest from my mom and dad, who were, though disappointed in my choice, not vehemently against me riding a bike for transportation. After five years of my doing so, my parents have come to accept this part of who I am and have come to understand that there is nothing untoward for a woman to ride a bicycle for transportation.

And every time I get on my bicycle, there is an extra part of me that exults at knowing that I am eschewing traditional views about women doing something physical and “sporty” that is usually relegated to men, even though I live in a country where this is nothing remarkable.

Taz Loomans is an architect and a writer who lives in Portland. Check out her blog at and stay tuned for her next installment here on BikePortland.

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