Documentary Celebrates the Joys of Riding After Dark
8:38 AM PST on March 4, 2022
Grecia White, a bicycling advocate based in Boston, recently wrapped up her production of Women Who Bike At Night, a short documentary that features interviews with seven women who share an enjoyment of riding their bikes around the city after the sun goes down.
Watch it here:
StreetsblogMASS spoke with White about the project by phone on Thursday morning. The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation:
StreetsblogMASS: How did you get the idea for this project?
I got the idea from personal experience, riding at night myself. It was therapeutic to do it, it was kind of a way to get away. Some people go on mental health walks; I go on mental health bike rides at night.
It’s a way to process your thoughts: the city is quiet and calm, but all the lights are on, it’s just really pretty. I felt like it was almost like a hidden treasure, and I wanted to find other people who do this.
I made a post on Twitter and at first it didn’t get much traction, but then I made a flyer, and that really helped. It caught on and people shared it. I was just asking whoever might want to be interviewed, and a lot of people reached out. I only personally knew one of the people I interviewed, and the rest I met through the project.
For our readers who identify as men, can you talk a little bit about the unique safety concerns that women and nonbinary people experience on our streets?
I was talking with a friend about it – Kathleen, the friend who the film is dedicated to, who introduced me to night riding in Austin – and when I told her about this idea, she was all for it but she told me to be very cautious when I’m riding at night. ‘Take precautions, let someone know where you’re going,’ all the usual things that women often get told.
I realized that I hadn’t been thinking about those things – she was thinking about my safety more than I was. To me it was just so freeing, and I just enjoyed it so much that perhaps that outweighed safety concerns for me. But I was curious how everyone else feels, and hear from other people.
(Safety for women) is a constant. It’s not just when we ride at night, it’s all the time. We can’t have all these self-imposed curfews just because it’s night time. It happens even in the subway. Porter Square station is so deep underground, and I remember being there with a friend, just the two of us all alone on the platform, and I remember telling him that if I screamed no one would hear me.
And his response was, ‘Why would you scream?’ It just didn’t occur to him.
Some people take more precautions than others, and some people just decide not to go out at all. But Boston is a beautiful city, and it should be accessible to everyone at all times.
So if you do want to ride your bike at night, know that there are other women who are doing it as well.
What was the most unexpected thing you learned in your interviews?
If we go back to safety, sometimes I would ask about safety, and the immediate response was always about cars. In a sense, I had to prompt them to ask about other aspects of safety. Cars are dangerous!
Some people were wearing safety vests; others weren’t. Some were wearing helmets; others weren’t. They were all very different in their approach to safety. But you don’t need all sorts of gear, and you don’t need to be a risk-taker, these were all ordinary women getting out there.
It strikes me that there are lots of similarities – in terms of the quietness and solitude but also in terms of safety issues – between riding a bike at night and riding transit, or walking at night. Do you have any recommendations for transportation policymakers after making this film?
There are definitely similarities for bus riders and people who walk. If you think about it, it makes sense – when you’re waiting for the bus, you’re thinking about what’s your exit point? Where would you run if you’re threatened? It’s always something you’re thinking about in the background, how to get away. If you’re on a bike, you can have a little more control over that. But it’s unfortunate, because the bus should feel safe.
Especially now with the T trying to do their bus network redesign – perhaps we should be thinking about how mobility works at nighttime, and consider how gender factors into that. These aren’t little things that need to be taken into account.
In terms of policy recommendations, I would say hire people who bike, who ride transit and the bus, and hire more women. These aren’t groundbreaking ideas.
Any final words for people watching this film?
Whoever’s curious about riding at night: you can start out with a friend, you know yourself, your body, and your limits. If it’s something you’re curious about, it’s worth a try.
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