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REPORT

Arrested Mobility

Barriers to Walking, Biking, and E-Scooter Use in Black Communities in the United States

Mobility plays a fundamental role in the lives of urban, suburban, and rural residents alike.

But for Black people and others of color, it can also bring unsolicited and profound obstacles reflecting structural racism and White supremacy in policy, planning, design and infrastructure, and law enforcement.

Executive Summary

For Black Americans and other people of color, traveling by foot, bicycle, or e-scooter can be fraught with obstacles and risks that reflect structural racism and White supremacy.

Man on scooter and jacket riding commuting to work on road street in city
Father Teaching Son How To Ride Bike

Together, these obstacles form a framework of arrested mobility: a set of transportation-related policies and practices across jurisdictions that limit mobility, opportunity, and access for Black Americans and other people of color.

The policy and policing elements of arrested mobility are mediated through state, local, and county laws. This study examines these laws concerning walking, cycling, and e-scooter use to supplement the efforts of activists. It surveys policies in all 50 states and the two largest cities in each state, as well as in selected counties.

While many of these laws are intended to serve a legitimate safety purpose, they also serve as a legal mechanism for racist, discriminatory, and predatory police enforcement. Often, their policy design makes fair enforcement difficult and creates too much opportunity for police to apply the law inequitably. 

Walking on asphalt
Cyclist Riding Bike in City Setting

We identified five characteristics associated with racial discrimination in enforcement that highlight the need for further research or policy changes:

  • Research shows discriminatory or inequitable enforcement
  • Ongoing advocacy efforts that speak to the discriminatory enforcement of policies
  • Highly subjective and confusing laws and policies
  • Laws that are almost impossible to enforce equitably
  • Absence of evidence, or inconclusive evidence, that policies improve safety outcomes

For pedestrians, we identified nine types of laws that meet at least one of these criteria, including laws related to jaywalking, hitchhiking, and playing ball.

For cyclists, we identified 11 categories of such laws, pertaining to riding behavior, licensing, requirements for bicycle equipment such as helmets and lights, and the condition of such equipment.

Group of friends walking together carrying longboards
Couple silhouette

Finally, e-scooters are regulated by laws similar to those for bicycles, such as helmet and lamp requirements, yet are subject to additional regulations related to parking, speed limits, and stricter licensing.

OF STATES HAVE LAWS PERTAINING TO NOT CROSSING AT THE CROSSWALK OR CROSSING OUTSIDE OF CROSSWALK
0 %
OF STATES HAVE LAWS PERTAINING TO PEDESTRIANS WALKING ON HIGHWAYS
0 %
OF STATES HAVE LAWS PERTAINING TO SUDDENLY LEAVING THE CURB
0 %

Key Actions to Addressing the Arrested Mobility of Black Individuals

6 Recommendations for Advocates, Researchers, and Policy Makers

1.

1.

Repeal laws, decriminalize violations, and promote alternative enforcement for policies that have minimal impact on safety and are enforced in a racially discriminatory manner.

Moving away from criminal enforcement for violations of pedestrian, bicycle, and e-scooter policies eliminates opportunities for racial discrimination in policing and reduces the potential for minor, non-safety violations to have a serious impact on Black Americans’ lives.

In 2022, Philadelphia passed the Driving Equality Law, which banned police stops for minor traffic violations, such as a broken brake light or expired registration, after data showed these stops overwhelmingly targeted Black drivers. Similar efforts for walking, cycling, and using e-scooters can likewise reduce opportunities for racially biased policing, particularly for policies with minimal safety impact.

Additionally, investment in street design and infrastructure can promote safety upstream, protecting pedestrians, cyclists, and e-scooter riders while encouraging behavior aligned with local, county, and state laws.

Citation: “Philly Becomes the First Big U.S. City With a Law Banning Minor Traffic Stops,” Billy Penn, March 3, 2022.

2.

2.

Embrace pedestrian, bike, and e-scooter infrastructure as a tool to reduce unwanted encounters with police, promote safety, and encourage mobility.

More than half of the country’s most dangerous roads for pedestrians are in predominantly Black or Latino neighborhoods.46 All of the top nine most dangerous urban arterials—roadways built for high traffic volumes and high speed—are in Black or Latino neighborhoods. These conditions can push pedestrians, cyclists, and e-scooters to break the law simply because there are no better alternatives: riding on the sidewalk to avoid a busy street, for example, or walking on the side of a road without a sidewalk. Investing in infrastructure not only reduces the likelihood of such actions being punished by police; it also improves safety and opens the door to mobility.

Citation: “Breaking the Cycle,” June 2022.

3.

3.

Reduce and/or eliminate court fines and fees associated with pedestrian, bicycle, and e-scooter policies.

Many municipalities’ budgets rely heavily on fines and fees from mobility-related violations, and places with larger African American populations are more likely to have a greater reliance on these revenue sources. These municipalities thus have a financial incentive to issue tickets for minor violations. These fines and fees related to pedestrian, cycling, or e-scooter activity can create severe financial hardship and arrest residents’ mobility, exacerbating the negative impacts of racial bias in policing.

4.

4.

Place limits on pretextual stops, in which police use minor violations as a justification to investigate unrelated crimes without a warrant.

A pretextual stop within the context of arrested mobility occurs when an officer identifies a violation of a traffic code merely as a pretext to “investigate a hunch that, by itself, would not amount to reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” as one recent publication put it, thus avoiding the need for a warrant. Research suggests these stops promote racial profiling.

For example, in addition to Philadelphia’s Driving Equality Law, as of March 2022, Los Angeles police are no longer be able to use minor infractions as a pretext to investigate drivers, bikers, or pedestrians for more serious offenses unless they first have sufficient evidence to support the incursion.

Citations:

Stephen Rushin and Griffin Edwards, “An Empirical Assessment of Pretextual Stops and Racial Profiling,” Stanford Law Review 73, no. 3 (2021): 637.

Kevin Rector, “New Limits on ‘Pretextual Stops’ by LAPD Officers Approved, Riling Police Union,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2022.

5.

5.

Engage with the bicycling industry in a conversation about the feasibility of manufacturing and selling bikes with front and rear lamps included.

In many cases, consumers who buy a brand-new bicycle are buying a machine that, as sold, is illegal to operate at night in many jurisdictions. A sustainable and affordable solution for this problem could mitigate a potential cause of police stops while promoting user safety.

6.

6.

Better understand the scope of arrested mobility.

A. Generate additional research to create comprehensive inventories of enforcement of pedestrian, cycling, and e-scooter policies at the local, county, state, and federal level.

B. Expand research on arrested mobility in other modes of transportation, such as public transit, air travel, and travel by automobile, as well as planning policies and polity.

C. Mandate greater transparency and access to data on enforcement of laws related to walking, biking, and using e-scooters.

Accessing data on policing can be difficult or impossible, with some jurisdictions failing to release data to the public or collect the demographic information of the targets of police stops in the first place. But a full understanding of the scope of arrested mobility — and the pathway to make better policy— depends on access to this data. Publicly accessible dashboards showing enforcement data, such as the one developed by BikeWalkKC in Kansas City, Missouri,51 can engage, inform, and empower community members and leaders in effecting change.

Citations:

“Findings,” Stanford Open Policing Project, accessed January 30, 2022.

“Community Dashboard,” BikeWalkKC, accessed January 30, 2022.

About the Authors

Charles T. Brown is founder and CEO of Equitable Cities, and the host of the Arrested Mobility Podcast.

J’Lin Rose is a policy analyst with Equitable Cities.

Samuel Kling is a fellow and director of global cities research at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.*

* The Chicago Council is an independent organization and does not take institutional
positions. The arguments within this report reflect the views of the authors.

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