Dockless Bikeshare and Racist Dog Whistles: 'Why are you assuming that bike is stolen?'

Urbanist and advocate Kristen Jeffers decries the thinly veiled racism underlying complaints about D.C.'s dockless bikeshare program.

1 minute read

February 7, 2018, 2:00 PM PST

By Elana Eden

Free Floating Bikeshare

Daniel Lobo / Flickr

Bikelash, in general, is by now a familiar phenomenon to mobility advocates. And since D.C. launched a dockless bikeshare pilot in September 2017, the criticism has been rolling in. But Kristen Jeffers, founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Urbanist, warns that these complaints are quickly veering racist.

On public forums like Twitter and neighborhood listservs, the frequently expressed assumption that dockless bikes are stolen seems to be fueled primarily by the perception that they are ridden largely by Black teenagers.

In one case Jeffers documents, police intervened after a Georgetown resident urged neighbors to report cyclists—wrongly termed "assailants"—for "acting suspicious."

In another, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner warned Petworth residents that dockless bikes encourage "criminal elements" due to the "escape from watchful eyes and law enforcement" they supposedly provide.

D.C.'s demonstration project—and dockless bikeshare as a whole—are subject to real and important critiques, Jeffers points out. But "what's not acceptable is the continued demonization of the companies that have tapped into a need and the people — especially the young black male people — who are taking advantage of this new technology and making it their own."

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