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A resident and advocate for safer and more developed biking infrastructure marched through the North Tulsa neighborhoods along Pine Avenue Wednesday afternoon, taking part in a lone protest against the removal of recently constructed bike lanes.
Local cyclist Kolby Webster, tired of feeling unsafe riding along Tulsa’s streets, trekked along a bike lane on N. Pine Ave. to “start a conversation” about the need to better protect pedestrians and bikers, as well as the potential economic benefits of creating more walkable, rideable neighborhoods.
“The fact of the matter is that even if you don’t bike in North Tulsa you want this infrastructure because it allows people to bike safely, but it also helps create foot traffic for more economic development,” Kolby Webster told The Black Wall Street Times.
Webster protests removal of bike lanes months after installation
Carrying his bike behind his back in the dry summer heat with the sun casting a spotlight on his sweat-drenched face, Webster’s solo protest highlighted the divide between the city’s efforts to expand bike lanes and the mostly Black residents of North Tulsa who don’t all see the need for them and who’ve condemned the lack of consultation when the lanes were created.
City workers started scrubbing away the bike squares and stripes making up the lanes on Wednesday after first creating them just six months ago. The bike lanes had been striped on Pine from Gilcrease Museum Road to Memorial in early October 2020, and workers completed the project in November.
Tulsa’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) is a group of volunteer advisors to the city on transportation needs and issues. In a November meeting last year, BPAC Chair Mitch Drummond explained the reasoning behind the implementation of the lanes on Pine.
“These street conversions are about so much more than just the bike lanes. They’re about reducing crashes and improving the safety of all users of these roads. We know from national assessments at a very detailed and broad level that these changes will save the lives of Tulsans, and this has been proven over and over again across the nation,” Drummond previously said.
Roads dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists
Ultimately, the U.S. has witnessed a 45% increase in pedestrians killed by drivers while walking over the last few years, with an even higher rate of fatalities for African American and Alaskan Native and Indigenous American pedestrians, according to research from Smart Growth America.
Notably, the roads are even more dangerous for cyclists, with a report from Street Light citing Oklahoma as the sixth deadliest state for bike riders in the country.
Yet, in a city well-known for a racist massacre against wealthy Black residents, neglecting and paternalistically making decisions for the Black community without their input, many residents have been opposed to the addition of bike lanes narrowing their streets and possibly contributing to more traffic.
While North Tulsa residents are less likely to have access to transportation than other areas of the city, residents opposed to the change have cited gentrification concerns.
For Kolby Webster’s part, he said he understands the concern from the community, which pushed District 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper to have the bike lanes removed. Webster said he recognizes that as a Black cyclist he’s a minority within a minority.
“It’s my life that’s on the line and I understand that I’m in the minority, but like, it’s infrastructure that democratizes the street. It also helps benefit everybody,” Webster said.
He explained how a more walkable and rideable neighborhood in North Tulsa would help not only adult cyclists like himself, but also students going to and from school. Beyond that, Webster believes it can be an economic driver for the overwhelmingly marginalized community.
Research shows bike lanes increase economic activity
While he lives on the border of District 4 and District 1 in downtown Tulsa, Kolby Webster often prefers to visit businesses in North Tulsa to patronize Black-owned businesses.
“I try to ride my bike on the regular. There’s a coffee shop literally up the street from me, but I go to Fulton Street [Books & Coffee] because that matters to me.” Webster said. “I’m trying to not only, you know, survive, but I’m also trying to help my community thrive, and that goes for my investments in North Tulsa businesses.
A report from Portland State University’s Transportation Research and Education Center in Oregon confirmed Webster’s argument that adding bike lanes and more pedestrian centers can tangibly increase economic benefits in the targeted area.
For instance, the study highlighted how after bike lanes were installed on Central Avenue in Minneapolis in 2012, the area felt a surge in economic activity. As a result of the installation, retail employment increased by nearly 13%, and there was a whopping 52% increase in food sales.
With his afternoon protest, Kolby Webster hopes to start a conversation to change peoples’ minds about the need for more pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure.
“And so, you know, there’s some of us that need this. And then there’s the rest of us, that could use this and that will benefit from it, undeniably. So, I know there’s people that will say it’s gentrification, it’s for people from outside of our side of town, to be able to use this infrastructure, and that’s just not the case. Nobody needs it more than North Tulsa.”