Opinion: Meet residents where they are on bike lane discussions

Shavel’le Olivier

It isn’t a shock that communities like Dorchester and Mattapan continue to be one of the last communities to receive bike related amenities. As a person who lives in Mattapan and a person who works for an organization (Mattapan Food & Fitness Coalition, or MFFC) that focuses on biking as one way to get resident’s bodies moving, there are common issues that come up:

1. The bike lanes are for whom? Black people do not bike!

2. The bike lanes will cause gentrification. My rent will skyrocket!

To be honest, the residents who think this way are not wrong. This is their experience and those who are advocating for bicycling must honor that.

It’s hard for me to think about advocating for more bike lanes if the residents I serve need basic resources such as housing, food, water, and clothing. Until we resolve these issues around housing, there will continue to be resistance to bike lanes and it will continue to be seen as a negative thing.

This is the time for the City of Boston to do some real relationship building with the communities that weren’t in this week's bike announcement. This is the time for the City of Boston to intentionally include residents in the planning.

MFFC has already established trust in Mattapan and has engaged them on various transportation projects. Our focus is to bring information and introduce residents to decision makers and those who have the information. When it comes to biking - we focus on the health benefits it could bring not convincing them that bike lanes are the way to go.

When it comes to transportation in general, we talk about the root issues and bring speakers that can relate to the audience. We have done this through our Transportation Talks (in partnership with the Powerful Pathways organization), which have engaged more than 700 unique individuals over two years. MFFC and Powerful Pathways have plans to continue these conversations in the coming year.

Each community of Boston is in different stages when it comes to biking and the residents there need to be met where they are.

Shavel’le Olivier is executive director of Mattapan Food & Fitness Coalition.



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