Advocacy / Tips - Safety / Urban / Urban Planning

How Street Harassment Affects Cyclists

Philadelphia Bike Ride

Photo courtesy of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, the group Stop Street Harassment released Unsafe and Harassed in Public Spaces: A National Street Harassment Report. The impressive 63-page report is the first of its kind: While there have been public conversations and activism around the issue of street harassment (defined here) for some time now, including a recent subway ad campaign by Hollaback! Philly, by this is the first quantifiable report of this scope to be released.

And I think Philadelphia’s bicycle community needs to read it.

What’s the connection, you might ask? Why should the folks who care about two-wheeled transportation and recreation in Philadelphia care also about the harassment that (primarily) women and LGBT folks face in a variety of public spaces in our city?

First, because some women from our local bike community make cameos in the report! On page 57–58, Holly shares the results of a focus group I helped organize at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia office over the winter. I invited some women I know through Women Bike PHL, the women’s bicycling program I run at the BCGP, to come and share their experiences with street harassment with Holly Kearl, Director of Stop Street Harassment. Over the course of an hour, we discussed how some of us bike to escape harassment, the types of harassment we’ve experienced while riding a bike, and some of our ideas to combat the problem.

Whether you’re personally acquainted with the type of sexual and gender-based harassment many Philadelphians face in public spaces, or it’s totally new topic for you, I urge you to read the stories that these women (and many other people throughout the report) share. They will either resonate with you or they will open your eyes — either way, it’s a good thing. Here’s an example:

In the summertime if folks have their windows open, men will stick their hands out and grope your bum as you’re biking by. That certainly happens every once in a while, said Jeannette.

Illustration by Kate Mundie.

Second, because safer streets is a shared goal of the bicycle advocacy movement and the anti-harassment movement, and we’ll both be stronger if we understand where we overlap. Since not everyone rides a bike in any given city, there aren’t necessarily a ton of bicyclists taking part in any given anti-street-harassment effort. And since the bicycle community is consistently male-dominated, sexual harassment doesn’t tend to come up in a lot of spaces where biking is being discussed. In Women Bike PHL conversations, online and in real life, harassment is discussed all the time. And I’m inspired to see some recent efforts to link up these issues more directly. I recently participated in the first-ever tweetchat about the topic of harassment and bicycles, moderated by an anti-harassment group in Boston called Hollaback Boston. Check out this storify link to see what folks from all over the world had to say on the topic. I’ve also written a few pieces on the intersection between biking and harassment myself: here’s one of them.

Third, because harassment IS a transportation and mobility issue, so folks who say they care about transportation and mobility simply must pay attention to it. Many  Philadelphians make decisions about how (or if) they are going to get from point A to point B with street harassment and associated safety concerns in mind. The prevalence of harassment affects the way I dress, whether I bike or walk or take SEPTA, whether I wear headphones or not, and the fear of it honestly sometimes means I end up in a cab when I’d far prefer a bike ride home. That’s not what I want out of my city. If we want people to choose biking, walking, and transit to get around, we need to be part of efforts to make those forms of transportation safe and appealing for everyone.

Finally, because this report is part of a much bigger conversation we should ALL be paying attention to: the broader question of pervasive violence against women in our society, particularly salient in light of the recent mass shooting in California and the #notallmen and #yesallwomen hashtag movements that followed it. (Haven’t heard about it? Read this.) To the cyclists in Philadelphia who might not think sexual harassment is a big deal: You are the folks who need to read this report the most. Not all men are perpetrators of violence against women, it’s true. But we are ALL collectively responsible for a culture that allows it to happen — whether on two feet or on two wheels.

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