Resolution: Build Equity Through Cycling

The previous blog post discussed highlights (and some low points) from the last year in cycling. Today’s post continues our New Years theme with a resolution, which is a subtle, but very important shift in priorities for the Bike Fed. Tomorrow’s post will be more specific and detail some goals for bicycling we set for 2015. As always, we welcome feedback from our members in the comment section below.

As I rang in 2015 at home with a small group of friends, I could not help but remember last year when we were witness to a bad car crash outside our home while we were having our New Years Eve party. We called the police, gave statements and helped the victims until the paramedics arrived. The police were the first responders, and we were grateful they were working on a cold New Years Eve to keep people safe. With all the discussion about Dontre Hamilton, Ferguson, MO and the murder of two New York City Police Officers, it is strange how my first thoughts about police have changed this year. It is likely that 2014 will be remembered most for all the controversy about racial injustice and social inequities.

Wisconsin has some unenviable statistics, this one from the Greater Together Report Card.

While the Wisconsin Bike Fed is a primarily a bicycle advocacy group, but we have long held that bicycling is a simple solution to many complicated social problems like skyrocketing healthcare and transportation costs and help us build more livable communities. We also believe bicycles can also bring people together, help them access jobs, and reduce family transportation costs. With all the unenviable social equity statistics in the media today, the staff at the Bike Fed felt we should work harder in 2015 to use our bicycle programs to address the equity crisis we all face.

The Wisconsin Bike Fed was recently asked to present our Open Streets idea to the Greater Together Coalition, which has highlighted these disparities in this report card. These inequities have become so problematic, that finding a solution may have risen above all other social priorities. While the solutions are not simple, most of us agree we must do something. The staff at the Bike Fed felt this was another opportunity for us to use the simple bicycle to help solve some very complicated social problems, so for the New Year, we resolve to use our programs to redouble our efforts to address equity issues in 2015.

The Milwaukee metro area has long been the most segregated in the country.

Beginning in 2015, we will create an umbrella Cycling Equity Program with the goal of increasing our engagement with youth, women and people of color.  We will assign staff to this Equity program and seek greater involvement and leadership from our communities of color, women and youth to ensure that all our programs across the state have the greatest positive effect addressing these entrenched inequities. We will work more closely with other groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs, DreamBikes and Red Bike and Green who have similar programs and missions, but we will also seek involvement from healthcare, faith and community groups.


I am proud of the work we already do at the Bike Fed and address equity issues, like our second biggest program: Safe Routes to School, which teaches at-risk kids how to safely and legally get around on bicycles. Our Valid Bike Shop in North Division High School teaches job readiness skills while kids can work to earn a bike. Our summer bike camps are more intensive two-week programs in which kids learn how to safely ride bicycles to explore new areas of Milwaukee, expanding their horizons and self-image.

In 2014 we launched two new programs and two rides that address equity. Our new Women in Bicycling Program seeks to reduce the gender gap in bicycling through a number of fun rides, classes and events across the state. Our Milwaukee Smart Trips Program assists people in the Riverwest and Harambe neighborhoods who are interested in bicycling (as well as taking transit and walking) for transportation. The Southside Bicycle Day and our Polish Moon Ride and Day of the Dead Ride celebrate the Latino culture in Milwaukee and Madison, and we hope to do more community outreach to get more neighbors involved in in those rides this year.

The Bike Fed and more than 700 people from the neighborhood showed up for the third annual Southside Bicycle Day. , The event was again organized by the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center’s Healthy Choices Program, along with the community group “Latinos por la Salud”, that both work dynamically to expand healthy living education, awareness and access in Milwaukee’s near south side neighborhoods.

Bike Fed staff have also worked with the League of American Bicyclists Equity Initiative, and our Southeast Regional Coordinator Keith Holt has been a member of the LABs Equity Advisory Council. Under the umbrella of our new Wisconsin Bicycling Equity Program, Bike Fed staff will continue to work with the League and local cycling groups around Wisconsin to increase involvement of youth, women and people of color.

La Rondalla Voces & Guitarras de Milwaukee are welcome back at the second Polish Moon Ride this year.

For 2015, we are very close to announcing some Open Streets events in Milwaukee that will use healthy activities to physically bring people together who may never socialize otherwise. While all these programs at the Bike Fed at least partially address the inequities that exist in Wisconsin, Milwaukee and our shared cycling community, that has always been more of an ancillary goal than part of the mission. With this new Equity Program, we will formalize our goals to be more inclusive and address issues of inequity in communities across Wisconsin.

A student learns to ride a bicycle for the first time in one of our Safe Routes to School classes.

I love living in Milwaukee’s Washington Heights neighborhood, and I have a hard time imagining living anywhere but Wisconsin. Even with all there is for us to cheer about, we have to open our eyes and our hearts to our shared problems. While the issues of segregation and other racial inequities are easier to see in Milwaukee, they exist in Madison, Racine, Appleton and even up in Ashland. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters of all stripes to empower everyone to equally enjoy the fruits of our great state. We are greater together than when we are apart.

Kids in one of our bike camps exploring the Hank Aaron State Trail.



About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

6 thoughts on “Resolution: Build Equity Through Cycling

  1. Dave, thank you for this post and for your leadership on this – this is such an important direction for the Bike Fed to move in. Sign me up to help!

  2. I am so pleased to read this post. The most important lesson I have personally learned is that advocacy – not only for bicycling but for pretty much any issue – cannot succeed without making equity an upfront cornerstone of the effort.

    Success in bicycle advocacy requires significant support from the people in order to influence our elected leaders to also support such efforts. And significant support from the people cannot happen unless everyone – regardless of gender, age, race, economic status, physical ability, and so on – has a meaningful opportunity to shape bicycle advocacy to meet their needs.

    I want to share a quote from Adonia Lugo, current Equity Initiative Manager for the League of American Bicyclists:

    “It’s time to address…the barriers to bicycling…[connected] to wider frameworks of race and class bias…If this stuff is a distraction from something more important in the bike movement, maybe the bike movement is not really that important.”


    When I first read her post over a year ago, I didn’t get it. But I didn’t forget it, either. And after reading a lot more on the topic, I finally came to understand what she is saying, how important her message is, and why we all need to embrace her ideas.

    I know the “bike movement” is important. And I now understand that working towards equity must be part of it. This is why I am so pleased to read DaveS’s post. I look forward to learning more about the Bike Fed’s equity plans and how I can improve my own bicycle advocacy efforts in support.

    • Great quote Bob, thanks for sharing that. I had not seen it, but it kind of sums up how I have been feeling lately, given the controversies about racial inequities around the country, but in Wisconsin in particular.

  3. Another thanks to Dave and the Bike Fed for this from me! Making biking and bike advocacy more inclusive and equitable is hard work but absolutely necessary.

  4. As I ride my bicycle, I often feel free and this Bike Fed advocacy effort for equity in Milwaukee and Wisconsin can help many become free at last. I can’t help but think that MLK is smiling after he read these blog piece and learned of the Bike Fed’s intention to help the cause. The bike as an instrument of social change….wonderful! I’m in.

    • Thanks for all your help on this issue too David. We really want to work more closely with your team at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center for our south side initiatives. Expanding our involvement in the South Side Bicycle Day and expanding community involvement in the Polish Moon ride are two obvious first steps. Open Streets is certainly part of the plan too, but we should talk more comprehensively.

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