In 2016, I have given talks of various lengths about transportation/urban planning and equity. Over my career, I have found that when people hear the words diversity and inclusion they default to race and income, often confounding the two. For example, I hear people mention low-income, minority communities. However, as we work on different project and I grow as a professional, I have learned that diversity and inclusion does include race and income as well as other factors. In transportation, I believe that a system that is diverse and inclusive gives everyone independence, options, and assurance that they can get to point A to B safely, timely, and reliably.
On Friday November 4, 2016, I had the privilege of being the keynote at the Annual Harrisonburg & Rockingham Bike-Walk Summit. This year’s theme was “Stronger Together: Building an Inclusive Biking and Walking Community”. As the keynote, I framed the conversation and provided food for thought. The afternoon sessions where small group discussions of how to take my talking points and apply it in the Harrisonburg & Rockingham County context.
Here are some points that I shared with them to consider when building an inclusive biking and walking community.
- Be inclusive of persons with disabilities: Often when talking about biking and walking, persons with disabilities are excluded. There are opportunities to include persons with disabilities in active transportation. For example, the organization that I co-founded, Black Women Bike, has visually impaired women that ride with us. We use a tandem bike and a pilot, which is a sighted person.
- Engage non-traditional partners: One way to accomplish this is engaging non-traditional partners in transportation planning. For the District’s multimodal plan, moveDC, we engaged advocates that serve low income, homeless, veteran advocates, youth, immigrants, disability/mobility, and LGBTQ populations.
- Use images that reflect the community: Photos and images are an easy way to make people feel included. Often on marketing materials the person biking or walking is a fit, young adult. If there is diversity, it is what I call the United Colors of Benneton diversity, which is one person of each race, but they are young models. Photos should reflect the diversity of the community including race/ethnicity, age, abilities, size, shape, professions, and neighborhoods. One way to get photos is to set up a group on a photo sharing website to crowdsource from the community.
- Don’t fight, invite: In my work with Nspiregreen and Black Women Bike, I’ve heard all the arguments against “cyclists”. I’ve learned not to fight. Instead, I invite them on a bike ride. Every time I’ve done this it has disarmed people. What I’ve realized is that some people perceive biking as something that is for young, physically fit people. The root feeling is exclusion. After describing how they can bike despite age and physical ability, people are curious and start asking more questions.
- Take meetings to the streets: The best way to engage people is to go to the streets. This could include farmer’s markets, bus stops, transit stations, events, festivals, and the literal street corner.
After hearing the report out from the interaction sessions at the summit, I was able to respond and leave everyone with final thoughts. The take home message from the day is that diversity and inclusion has to be intentional, authentic, and built into the planning process versus trying to retrofit after the fact. Diversity describes who is in the room during the planning process. Inclusion is when people feel heard, they were part of the process, and the outcomes meet the needs of their community.
Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.