Two Bicyclists & Two Men on the Metro

I clearly remember that August 15, 2021 was a glorious Sunday, weather wise. I spent the whole afternoon riding my bicycle with a friend in DC. Alas, the sun set too quickly for my liking. My route back was through a wooded trial that is a delight during the day but not so for me after sundown. This meant having to take the metro while my male friend, who lives in Alexandria, VA could ride his bike home in the dark. I was contemplating the unfairness of not being able to use my preferred means of transportation for safety reasons and pay metro fare that I didn’t need to. This is a case of women making a different set of transport-mode choices and paying more for safety reasons compared to men. You will find research looking into this here and here, for instance. Here is my old blog post on the topic and tweets about encountering harassments on the road as a female cyclist and pedestrian here and here.

A light green bicycle with carrier basket at the back, a green helmet hanging on handle bar

But there is more. Taking the metro that night also meant taking the dingy metro elevator along with my bike to reach the train platform. Definitely an unpleasant prospect. There was no way around it, though. I hoped there would be people in the elevator to make the ride more tolerable. Two people were waiting for the elevator but they still stood outside after it arrived and I entered. I asked them if they would come along because I preferred riding elevators with people. They did, and we struck up a quick conversation. They asked me why I did not prefer riding the elevator by myself. One of them said that they were going to wait for the next elevator because, “most don’t feel comfortable being in an elevator with Black men”. He might have said “most women”, but I am not certain about the “women” part. In any case, to this woman, these two individuals actually represented a comfortable elevator ride. What was incredibly incredible (!) about the man’s statement was how matter-of-factly his tone was, as if he were telling me about the sun’s rising in the east the next morning. I could say many things about this, but I will stay in the transportation lane.

A colorful map showing subway system of DC
DC Metro System Map, Source: WMATA

Navigating the metro system in this manner, i.e. waiting for the next elevator so as not to discomfort fellow riders, could have travel implications. Waiting for the next elevator could translate into missing the immediate next train and waiting for a long time for the one after it or missing the last one all together. Some implications stemming from this could be arriving late for work, a doctor’s appointment, or at a transfer station to connect to another transit line, or worse being left with no other option to arrive at a desired destination. Sadly though, for the two men (I suspect it is not only them), that may mean a tiny inconvenience compared to what they are aiming to avoid. Regardless it is a transport disadvantage, one I have not thought or read about. My conversation with them was very brief as we took separate trains. I would have loved to ask them if any of the travel implications I mention above happened to them. For now, I am simply noting their experience as anecdotal. As a transportation-disadvatages researcher, I will certainly continue to think about this and incorporate it into my future research. If you are familiar with work that has relevance to the topic, please contact me here.

Minorities of different dimensions experience a myriad of transport disadvantages that are not common to others. The experience I share in this post represents a couple of them, some well known others not, at least to me. There are three characters in this post: me, my friend who lives in Alexandria, and the two Black men I met in the elevator. I am a Black woman. Though my Blackness didn’t a play a part in my transport disadvantage, as a woman I had to take transit and pay fare because it was safer than riding a bicycle through a wooded trail at night. The two Black men thought it safe to wait for the next elevator instead of potentially making others uncomfortable with their presence and risk delaying or missing their ride. My friend? He is a White male. He wanted to ride a bicycle home that night, and he did. Perhaps his Whiteness had nothing to do with it; perhaps a non-White male would have been able to ride his bicycle home that night. But I like to mention that riding while Black is a well documented transport disadvantage Black cyclists experience. Was it all a coincidence? Perhaps. But you see, that is why I love being a researcher. I get to find out!

But still, the events of that glorious-weather-wise Sunday captured gender and race based different transport experiences, making the day not so very glorious after all.

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