More Conversation About Not-So-Invisible Bicyclists

The other day, we wrote a post
in hopes of starting a conversation about the way certain groups of
people who ride bicycles — notably, immigrants who ride to work and
for work — tend to get overlooked by bicycle advocacy groups and
planners. The post (which grew out of an item by Streetsblog Network member Honking in Traffic)
got a lot of responses, including a few from people who thought we were
stating the obvious or being patronizing. (On Twitter, @feedmeshow put it this way: "Wealthy white person notices that some ride of necessity, as opp. lifestyle choice." Ouch.)

What
seems clear is that there needs to be more discussion on the topic, not
less. Many people sent along some great resources that could help to
further a productive conversation, and it seemed worthwhile to collect
some of that feedback in a separate post.

IMG_8080.jpgCiudad de Luces reaches out to day laborers who use bicycles for transportation. (Photo: Ciudad de Luces)

We learned about an outreach program in Los Angeles called Ciudad de Luces,
a project of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition whose mission is
"to increase working-class Latino immigrant bicyclists’ safety and
empower them to educate and spread bicycle safety information and
advocacy to their communities." They’re due to publish a
Spanish-language cycling guide in March and are working with grassroots
groups like CARACEN (the Central American Resource Center). A few readers also referenced an article in Bicycling magazine on the topic.

One
of the most the intriguing responses came from Michael Smart, a
doctoral student at UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies, who
just published a paper entitled "US Immigrants and Bicycling:
Two-Wheeled in Autopia" (download the PDF
here). Smart’s paper looks at many variables that influence immigrants’
use of bicycles — income, neighborhood density, inability to obtain a
driver’s license because of immigration status, and past habits. It
includes some very interesting statistics — for instance, "even among
non-drivers, native-born Americans make only 1 percent of trips by
bicycle, while immigrants make 3 percent of trips by bicycle."

In
his conclusion, Smart notes that despite the high rate of biking among
immigrant groups, very little effort is made to include those people in
the planning process:

[T]his
research serves to highlight that transportation planning agencies
should include immigrant communities in the planning of bicycle
networks and facilities. There is little evidence that this is
currently the case. In Los Angeles, a city with one of the largest
concentrations of immigrants in the United States, the city’s recently
released draft Bicycle Master Plan Update was crafted without targeted
outreach to immigrant communities, and indeed the most significant
element of the public participation process was an internet survey….
While the survey did not ask respondents questions related to
immigration, the public participation process on the whole does not
appear to include input from low-income individuals such as low-income
immigrants. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case, with nearly
85 percent of all respondents to the survey having had a college degree
— and nearly half of those respondents had post-graduate degrees.…

Similarly,
a recent citywide bicycle survey in New York City was conducted online,
in English only, and a majority of its respondents (55 percent) were
members of bicycle advocacy groups…. Indeed, as many have noted,
typical public participation processes such as community meeting and
public review processes tend to attract the attention and input of
organized and relatively powerful special-interest groups, while
failing to receive meaningful input from others — even when the issue
at hand is important to those individuals…. Transportation planning
agencies may therefore need to use targeted outreach processes in order
to receive meaningful input from immigrant cyclists on bicycle-related
questions.

Let’s keep talking. It can’t hurt.

  • I think this is great, L.A. is where I learned to ride a bike, and it can be a great place to ride, whether it is by choice or not.

    I am from Canoga Park, Brentwood and Culver City, but live in Berlin now. Targeted outreach to immigrants and people from non-European background is starting slowly here in the German capital, and is not nearly as advanced or developed as I understand it to be in different cities in, for example, The Netherlands.

    I ride a 19 year old bike, cannot afford a car, etc. I don’t use a helmet for city riding; my only “safety equipment” is regulation lights and reflectors. Drivers here are better than average but I used the same set up in Prague where drivers are nuts or worse.

    So it troubles me that on the Ciudad de Lucas website they mention “…We have given out bike lights and safety vests every Friday at the CARECEN center since April 2009. Helmets are to come soon…”. Bike lights are required, but the rest of the stuff is not. This is supposed to be education, but it also strays into propaganda. At its worst we will have a certain group of cyclists identified by a certain type of vests and perhaps inexpensive and not-so-stylish helmets. Bad idea. I would not be surprised if Bike Coalition staff appear at CARECEN wearing helmets and vests, but take them off when out of sight of their target groups.

    Ciudad de Lucas seems to have a holistic approach – they offer training, repair classes and related – so how about skipping the vests and the helmets and shifting the money (or just time, if the vests and helmets are donated) and focus to better lights or even proper bags so that people don’t have to ride carrying stuff in their arms? Puncture-resistant tires help a lot for getting to work on time or if you are riding through lonely parts of the city in the dark.

    The LA County Bike Coalition is doing a great thing but I hope they omit this dangerization of cycling plan – offering helmets and vests – as soon as possible.

  • Hey, Todd – from Thousand Oaks here, now studying in Aarhus, Denmark 😀 (very low car use around here, btw)

  • dalman

    Thanks for this followup article. It’s great to hear how other cities are helping their cyclists too.

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