BGDB founder offers ways to make cycling more inclusive

When Monica Garrison started a Facebook group called Blacks Girls Do Bike (BGDB) in 2013, she was hopeful more than anything else. She was looking for women like her, women of color, who were interested in riding together. Soon, BGDB expanded. Her small riding group in Pittsburgh evolved into a nonprofit organization and chapters began to crop up in other major cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, and Houston. Monica now serves as the CEO and chief storyteller of Black Girls Do Bike! which now has over 180 chapters worldwide.

Each chapter has a leader, or shero, who with help from Garrison, spearheads the group by organizing rides, connecting with local bike shops and advocacy groups, and pursuing local partnerships. Sacramento has its own chapter, with one of its sheros, Diana Fountaine, who is also a staff member for Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates.While BGDB’s primary focus is to get women of color on bikes and make the cycling community more inclusive, all women are welcome on rides along with the occasional male relative or ally. In honor of Black History Month and the organization’s 10th year anniversary, we connected with Garrison to ask her a few questions about her vision for BGDB. 

Q: What is your overall inspiring goal with the organization? 

MG: Black Girls Do Bike exists to empower women of color around the country to take up cycling as a form of exercise, recreation, and transportation. The organization aims to create a supportive network of female riders and provide access to resources and events that encourage women to feel confident and safe while exploring on two wheels. 

We have a goal to break down barriers and encourage more diversity in the cycling community, promoting the health, wellness, and overall well-being of women of color. 

Q: What would you tell others to inspire them to get out there and just do it?

MG: Cycling is an incredibly rewarding activity that provides a sense of freedom and adventure. If you’re looking to start cycling, remember that you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the benefits. Start with short rides and gradually increase your distance and intensity as your fitness improves. Don’t worry about speed or performance, and focus on having fun and enjoying the ride. Joining a community, like Black Girls Do Bike, can also provide motivation and support as you begin your cycling journey. With a welcoming and inclusive community, you can meet new friends, learn new skills, and share in the joy of cycling. 

Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to start out a chapter? 

MG: My advice is to create a welcoming atmosphere by ensuring that your chapter is a safe and inclusive space. Encourage participation from people of all skill levels. Be visible and vocal. Make sure people know about your club and what you stand for. Use social media and other channels to promote your chapter. Cultivate relationships with organizations and businesses that align with your our mission. This can help expand your network and find new members. 

Q: What can local advocacy groups do to help local chapters grow? 

MG: Local advocacy groups can provide support to local cycling chapters by helping them promote their activities, connect with potential members, and build partnerships with other organizations. Advocacy groups can offer guidance on best practices for organizing rides and events. They can be a resource for educating cyclists on safe riding practices and local regulations. Additionally, they can advocate for policies and infrastructure improvements that make cycling safer and more accessible in their communities, which can help attract and retain new cyclists. Finally, advocacy groups can collaborate with local cycling chapters on joint initiatives, such as community outreach events or awareness campaigns, to raise the profile of cycling and build broader support for active transportation.

SABA is dedicated to supporting groups that promote inclusivity in cycling and have partnered with the Sacramento chapter. If you are interested in joining BGDB Sacramento, you can join their facebook group, or get in touch.

SABA Exec. Dir. Deb Banks, with Monica at the Phillie Bike Expo, October 2022.

Photo credit top picture: Chancelor Humprey of keep Pitts Dope.
Other pics provided by Monica Garrison.

50 reasons why everyone should want more walkable and bikeable streets

Making our streets more bikeable is beneficial to everyone. Borrowing heavily from Fast Company’s “50 Reasons Why Everyone Should Want More Walkable Streets”, by Adele Peters, we are changing these up to include biking. The entire report is here (should you be interested):

#1 Longevity

Cyclists live an average of 8 years longer than the general population, according to a study from 2011 by International Journal of sports.

#2 Waist Management

The average person burns anywhere from 210 to 310 calories for 30 minutes of riding, according to Harvard University.

#3 Healthy Heart

Purdue University released a study that shows regular cycling can reduce heart disease by 50%.

#4 General Wellbeing lists cycling as a form of transportation and exercise that is both calming and meditative. But not too meditative, keep your eyes on the road!

#5 Traffic Safety

More than 130 cyclists died in crashes in 2019 in California, according to the California office of traffic safety. Better street designs and policies can greatly reduce injuries and fatalities. Safer streets encourage more cycling.

#6 Safety in Numbers

While some countries such as the U.K. have nearly 6 million security cameras covering their streets, making our streets more walkable and bikeable increases the amount of people in an area and the number of eyes present.

#7 Less Crime

In one Kansas city neighborhood, crime dropped 74% when streets went car-free on weekends.

#8 Creates Community

Neighborhoods that are designed to be more walkable and bikeable bring more people out of their houses and into the neighborhood to positively interact with each other.

#9 Sense of Ownership

Having more people bike and walk in their neighborhoods brings awareness of the many features their areas provide. People feel more of a sense of ownership and are more likely to take care of it.

#10 Promotes Creativity

Streets that are walkable and bikeable attract public arts and spaces. Cultural events and public art encourage people to visit areas that they may have overlooked.

#11 Affordability

Not everyone can afford to buy a car and pay for auto insurance. A bicycle is relatively inexpensive to purchase or maintain. Bikeable streets means more people have mobility.

#12 Social Interaction

Studies from the 1960s show that people who lived on streets with more car traffic, knew less about their neighbors.

#13 Community Bonds

With more people interacting with each other, it increases the strength of community bonds. According to a study in Ireland, people who lived in walkable and bikeable neighborhoods had stronger “social capital.”

#14 Connections

Both millennials and seniors are more likely to walk than drive. With more people walking, biking and using public transportation, there are more chances for individuals of all ages to connect with each other.

#15 Inclusivity

Traffic infrastructure can physically separate communities and neighborhoods, as we have experienced in Sacramento. With more people riding their bikes, it makes more of the city accessible and puts less strain on lower income households who can’t afford to be car dependent.

#16 It Boosts the Economy

Cyclists are more likely to shop in neighborhoods they ride in than drivers. It also boosts employment. Overall, walking and biking provide a return of $11.80 for every $1 dollar invested.

#17 It Supports Local Businesses

Parking lots redesigned into plazas gave enormous returns in retail sales. In cities like Portland, or where 20% of the population drives less, residents save over a billion dollars a year. Much of this money goes into the local economy.

#18 Boosts Brain Power

A study in Scientific Reports found a link between improved executive functioning and regular physical activity. Other studies have some better cognitive function in older adults who regularly ride their bikes.

#19 Improves a City’s Brand and Identity

Cities such as Barcelona, that have improved their walkability and public spaces, have seen a rise of over 300%  in annual visitors in the past 2 decades. People are more likely to visit a city that is more walkable and bikeable.

#20 Improves Tourism

Walking and biking are two of the easiest ways to visit a city. Most major cities such as Sacramento, offer electric bike rentals. London saw an increase in tourist in Trafalgar Sqaure of over 300% after making it more friendly to walkers and cyclists.

#21 It Encourages Investment

The City of New York’s investment into the High Line Park, a walkable and bikeable area, led to a 2 billion dollar private investment into the neighborhood surrounding the park. The High Line Park features a 1.25 mile path that loops around public art and has become a popular destination for locals and tourists.

#22 It Attracts the Creative Class

According to the American League of Bicyclists, bike friendly areas attract what’s referred to as the creative class (scientists, engineers, educators, poets, architects, musicians, etc). The city of Indianapolis began attracting more creative professionals after the city made efforts to make their streets more bikeable.

#23 It Increases Land and Property Values

Safer accessible neighborhoods  have higher property values. When efforts are made to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, home values often go up and average of $82 per square foot. 

#24 It Activates the Street Facade

Streets that are walkable and bikeable have fewer empty storefronts. When New York City worked to make Union Square more accommodating to walkers and cyclist, commercial property vacancies went down 49%.

#25 It Reduces Traffic Congestion

The more people  use their bikes for daily trips, the less congestion we have on our roads. This is beneficial for the economy. In the Bay Area, businesses lose up to 2 billion dollars a year due to employees being stuck in traffic.

#26 Reduces Maintenance Costs

In the U.S., 203 billion dollars goes into building and maintaining roads every year. It’s much cheaper to build and maintain sidewalks and bike paths, not to mention the benefits of cleaner air from more people walking and biking. Unlike EVs, walking and biking also reduces traffic congestion.

#27 Reduces Healthcare Costs

Nearly 200 million dollars a year is spent on obesity related illnesses in the U.S. Both increased walking and biking reduces inactivity and stationary lifestyles and can promote weight loss.

#28 Reduces reliance on fossil fuels

Scientists estimate we have just over 50 years of oil left. Cars use oil inefficiently. Biking or walking does not require the use of nonrenewable resources. Biking reduces one’s carbon footprint.

#29 Minimizes Land Use

Sidewalks and bike paths take up much less space than roads. It allows more people to live in an area that is not car dependent. 

#30 Reduces Air Pollution

When Paris tried their first car free day in 2015, smog was reduced 50%. Biking and walking more is the most effective way to reduce a city’s carbon footprint.

#31 It Cuts Ambient Noise

When there are fewer cars on the road, there is less noise in the area. When Paris experimented with their car-free day, sound noises dropped three decibels. Plants and trees can also help reduce ambient noise.

#32 It Improves Microclimates

Pavement contributes to the Urban Heat Island Effect, while tree-lined sidewalks and paths, cool neighborhoods down considerably. In some areas, it can lead to a reduction in temperatures of up to 39 degrees.

#33 Improves Water Management

Sidewalks that have been designed with permeable surfaces can absorb water during heavy rains and reduce flooding. 

#34 Beautifies Cities

Many cities are made predominantly of roads. Roads comprise of over 70% of Chicago. Areas that are more walkable have more space for trees, plants, and public art. These interventions go a long way to improve the aesthetics of a city.

#35 Increases Active Use of Space

In neighborhoods that are walkable and bikeable, people are more likely to use parks and other public spaces. In the city of Copenhagen, efforts to make the city more walkable led to citizens tripling their use of city space.

#36 Makes a Better Use of Space

Streets that have been redesigned to support other forms of mobility often incorporate better use of underutilized spaces. In New York, over 700 miles of underused spaces were found under elevated structures.

#37 Encourages People to Drive Less

Foot traffic increased 35% when Copenhagen pedestrianized its main street. Most of the trips we take are under two miles. When streets are designed to encourage walking and biking, people are more inclined to ditch their cars.

#38 Promotes Public Transit

For many people, the biggest hurdle to using public transit is the last mile. The last mile often refers to the distance between a person’s home and the closest transit stop. When our streets are designed to encourage walking and biking, people are more likely to utilize public transit and walk or bike that last mile.

#39 Increases Permeability

Walkability and bikeability makes cities more permeable, which means easier to move around in. Better road design, such as road diets, make streets more inviting for walking and biking. People will bike more if they feel more comfortable and safe while doing so.

#40 Bridges Barriers

Neighborhoods are often disconnected from each other because of poor road design and infrastructure. In the city of Rotterdam, citizens crowd funded the construction of a bridge that now crosses over a busy intersection. Sacramento already boasts several pedestrian/bike bridges, but we could use more.

#41 Makes Cities more Competitive

In 2018, when Amazon was looking for a second HQ, all their finalists were bike friendly cities. When Melbourne redesigned their pedestrian center, their population grew 830%. Walkability and bikeability make cities more attractive.

#42 Builds Political Support

When the mayor of Pontevedra, Spain made his city car-free, his political support skyrocketed. He was reelected five times.

#43 Builds Engagement

When citizens spend more time outside, they become more attached to their neighborhoods, and are more likely to engage in civic activities. Crowdfunded public projects are becoming more common place in many cities.

#44 Encourages More Stakeholders to Participate

Community involvement drops 10% for every 10 minutes of added commute time. In cities like Los Angeles, where commuters spend an added 64 hours in their cars commuting, efforts are being made to help citizens make better use of their public spaces.

#45 Inspires Civic Responsibility

Mexico City has appointed a pedestrian superhero, a citizen responsible for defending walkability in their efforts to reach zero traffic deaths.  Making our streets more walkable and bikeable creates a greater sense of responsibility in our residents.

#46 Promotes Sustainable Behaviors

A study in Canada found that if people drove one less day a week, it could reduce greenhouse emissions by nearly 4 tons a year. Making cities more bikeable can help people make the cultural shift away from cars.

#47 Makes Cities More Resilient.

If people have access to safe paths for walking and cycling, they may become more resistant to the inconveniences that arise when mass transit breaks down or gas shortages happen.  It’s also protective against rising gas prices.

#48 Sparks Urban Regeneration

When Madrid built a walkable park along a river, it led to investments in new sports areas, cafes, plazas, and historic landmarks.

#49 Allows for Flexible Micro-Solutions

When an area is more walkable and bikeable, it leads to more pop-up interventions and DIY fix stations.

#50 Supports Cultural Heritage

When the area around a cultural landmark is both walkable and bikeable, more people will visit it. When Beijing began to modernize its city, areas around major cultural landmarks were made accessible only by walking or cycling, which helped to preserve these landmarks that might’ve disappeared due to urban sprawl.