If you read blogs about bikes you likely saw how Seattle’s DOT installed a dozen and a half bike racks in a place nobody would lock a single bike, let alone dozens of bikes. SDOT did this, quite obviously, to block homeless people from camping in the location, as everyone figured out pretty quickly.
Condemnation from the bike community was swift, but it was circumstantial at best.
The only reason SDOT even attempted such a heartless stunt like this in the first place is that liberal bike advocates tend to be largely indifferent to issues of housing justice and class. Sure, they’ll say homelessness is bad, but they’ll also spin bullshit and say the problem is “complicated”.
The urban bike community of the western world has struggled with its image as male, white, and affluent. Such is often not the case, but nothing reinforces this stereotype like some salaried tech industry bike bro complaining about the homeless camps he had to look at on his commute to work.
The average US rent is $1234/month.For rent to cost less than a quarter of income, as suggested, you’d need to make $4924 a month.At 40 hours a week, that’s $30.77/hr.The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hr
Even worse are the cycling publishers who’ve all but declared war on the homeless, labeling them all thieves, vagrants, or worse. And then there’s their pro-developer content, arguably the most neoliberal aspect of the bike world’s bourgeois image problem.
Let’s be clear: homelessness is a serious problem, it isn’t a complicated problem. But many cycling advocates get paid to obfuscate the issue into being one about zoning, supply and demand, NIMBYs, etc. This is a deliberate distraction.
The reason there are homeless people is that housing is a for-profit market based on monopoly and speculation. Price is only loosely attached to demand in-so-far as developers will gouge renters and buyers for the absolute maximum amount possible.
Nationally, there are 6 empty homes for every 1 homeless person. There’s no reason anyone should be forced to sleep on the streets in the first place. In a sane world, those homes would be reclaimed from banks by our government for its people. In a just world, people would be able to freely take over empty buildings for the sake of shelter as a human right.
So if the cycling community can recognize the injustice of climate change, or streets choked with dangerous, polluting automobiles, why can’t they recognize the global injustice of neoliberal capitalism?
It’s not enough to see homelessness as an abstraction, as someone else’s problem.
As people who ride bikes, we should rightly be shocked that a city like Seattle is using physical bike infrastructure to purge out a homeless camp. We should be just as outraged that a privatized housing market leaves hundreds of thousands of Americans without a roof over their heads in the first place.
Returning after a two-day business trip, Seattle resident Jeff Few noticed something odd on a stretch of pavement underneath Highway 99. When he had left his Belltown condo there had been a homeless encampment. Now the tents and the men, women and children seeking shelter there were gone, with 18 new bike racks installed in their place.