Equal rights = equity?

Equity, or sometimes equality, is the 6th “E” most recently added to the original three in traffic safety programs which were used as far back as the 1930s: engineering, education and enforcement, and two other E’s which were applied to bicycle and pedestrian programs, in the 1990s or thereabouts: encouragement and then later, evaluation.

Equity and equal rights are not the same, and neither is equality.

This distinction has surfaced repeatedly in struggles over civil rights of minority groups, with some people (generally more conservative) demanding only equal rights, and others (generally more left-leaning) demanding what they see as equity, including set-asides and restitution awards.

This distinction is similar to the one between bicyclists’ demands for the right to use the roads on the one hand, and demands for special bicycle facilities, on the other.

It can be argued that equity requires more than only equal treatment when the group in question is inherently different (for example, disabled people) or has been placed at a disadvantage, but it also can be argued that providing more than equal treatment is to acknowledge inherent inequality where it doesn’t exist or is irrelevant, invites backlash and is likely to lead to abuses.

There has to be a reasonable solution somewhere along this continuum, but opinions differ.

5 responses to “Equal rights = equity?

  1. I think the analogy is closer to the differences between Racial-Integrationists and Black-Separatists (who were often supported by Segregationists).


  2. The analogy to disabled people might be valid if one could show conclusively that the road network was designed such that normal vehicular cycling is impossible or so difficult as to make it effectively a non-option. For ADA, one could show pretty easily that sidewalks without curbcuts or doorways that are too narrow would make it all but impossible for a person in a wheelchair to get around.

    I think the bicycling analogy to that angle would be a stretch. Barring actual discriminatory laws (i.e., bike bans, etc.) that prevent cycling on our infrastructure, one has to ask if cycling is impossible, difficult, or simply unnerving to some, leading some cyclists to demand they be given special treatment.

    My wife hates to drive in and around Albuquerque. Roads too fast, too wide, with too much nutty city traffic. I used to drive on Long Island, across NYC, in Honolulu, and once a long time ago, drove my motorcycle in and around Boston when I took a summer course at BU (and survived!) I don’t mind driving in Albuquerque, which to me requires increased vigilance compared to sleepy Los Alamos, but is a far cry from the Eastern Seaboard where I spend many a year. Is this difference a case of lack of equity, lack of confidence, or simply a fact of life to be lived with? Would we throw money at traffic-averse motorists to provide them separate “B and C Motorist” roads for those who despise gunning it into the Big I and through the Paseo del Norte? I kinda doubt it.

  3. As John says, there’s surely a good balance somewhere. For now, I’d be happy just to know that the police training has improved to the point that I am confident I will not be pulled over and prosecuted for operation that is safe and legal. I’d also rather not be in a position where I feel fortunate that it hasn’t happened to me.

  4. Special bike facilities reminds of a “Motorist Should Know” comment http://bit.ly/pCGjBL: “The real problem here is that motorists think a driver’s license is a deed to the roadway …” There you go, motorist feel a sense of entitlement therefore a cyclist must get their entitlement.

    Eventually we’ll get to the absurdity of “Shakedown Street” (by Bruce McCall) http://nyti.ms/qT4uLQ

    Thanks John.

  5. The distinction between Equity and Equality, the 6th E, was laid out in this precursory article about “Equality for Cyclists”:

    And in the League Equity Statement:

    I know this to be true, because I was the co-author of the article and the ghost writer for the Equity Statement.

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