Making Transportation Safer for "Invisible Cyclists"

Earlier this year we wrote about the Ciudad des Luces/City of Lights program in Los Angeles — a project of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition “to increase working-class Latino immigrant bicyclists’ safety and empower them to educate and spread bicycle safety information and advocacy to their communities.” The outreach is especially important because low-income Latino cyclists in L.A. are at higher risk of injury and death.

The study authors estimate that about 20,000 Angelenos are so-called "invisible cyclists" -- working class riders who depend on bikes for transportation, many of whom are Latino immigrants. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/bike/2319271305/##Richard Masoner, Flickr##

Now a study by students at UCLA’s urban planning department offers new insights on the added danger facing bike riders with few resources who operate outside mainstream cycling networks. In a summary of the study, Jonna McKone at Network blog The City Fix describes the obstacles and gives an update on Ciudad des Luces/City of Lights:

Poorer sections of cities are notorious for having more dangerous intersections and this is true of Los Angeles. Beyond faster moving traffic in residential areas of immigrant commutes, unsafe sidewalks, higher rates of violence in low-income areas, higher rates of diet-related disease along race and socio-economic lines and fewer opportunities for physical activity, under-served populations also face persistent barriers to cycling.  These barriers are especially pertinent given that immigrants are more likely to cycle than native born Americans

These cyclists – many without other transportation options – face disproportionate challenges to biking including:

Limited knowledge of cyclists’ rights due to language barriers, lack of involvement in bicycling issues, distrust of non-profits and government;

Sub-standard bicycles and safety equipment;

Limited transportation options due to price and/or proximity;

Dangerous streets with fewer provisions for safe bicycling;

Increased likelihood of bicycle theft and robbery in neighborhoods with limited infrastructure for bikes, including lack of bicycle parking; and

Lack of health insurance.

The study’s authors highlight the efforts of Ciudad des Luces/City of Lights, and McKone reports that the group is empowering Latino cyclists in Los Angeles by working to create community bike repair spaces where cyclists can congregate.

Elsewhere on the Network today:  Greater City Providence argues in favor of monorail over streetcars for the city of Providence, Rhode Island. I Bike T.O. reports that the province of Ontario is considering paving the shoulders of rural roads, a potential boon for cyclists. World Changing reports on Japan’s efforts to establish 13 “Eco-Model” cities, including the city of Toyota, home to the automaker which is its namesake, which is making an effort to reduce driving.

  • Riley

    I wonder if the higher accident rate is in part caused by my observation that many Latino cyclists ride on the sidewalk and against traffic.

    Both of these riding behaviors make it less likely the rider will be seen by a motorist…(?)

  • These cyclists are not “invisible” to other cyclists. Just sayin’.

  • Anon

    The workers, particularly in suburban communities, are the ones walking and biking on roads without sidewalk. And homeowners don’t give much thought to them, certainly not enough to put a sidewalk in front of their house. Then they’d have to shovel it.

  • Einztine

    I see the improvement of bicycle infrastructure as a very progressive movement. Even though here in New York, you mostly see white people commuting by bicycle, once good cycling infrastructure is in place and it becomes more mainstream, people of low-income and who are undocumented are going to benefit tremendously.

    It is so much cheaper to buy and maintain a bicycle, plus it doesn’t require getting a license. Also, it helps battle the regressive nature of obesity and diabetes. If marketed right, the improvement of cycling infrastructure could be a civil rights movement that brings better mobility and health to those who can least afford it.

  • Riley, where would these immigrants learn the safest way to ride a bike?

    Folks who are riding on sidewalks and/or against traffic are doing it because they believe it’s safest. They’re not suicidal. They most likely don’t have health insurance. They just want to get from a to b without getting killed.

    Giving a ticket to someone who makes $50 a day isn’t the solution. Online campaigns aren’t the solution (they don’t go online).

    The solution is building infrastructure (bike lanes with arrows) and informative traffic stops (no ticket, just a warning).

  • Riley,

    The immigrants are far less reckless than most hipsetrs. Though to be honest things like: not going the right way or not having a helmet etc. can be found in any group of people. IMHO. It’s really easy to stereotype groups. The worst members stand out and no one notices the people who are doing the right thing. Lots of riders are considerate. No one notices that.

    The biggest issue is that too many intersections in poor neighborhoods are basically death traps and drivers really do drive with less care around pedestrians who they don’t think are as important.

    The drives here in the South Bronx are aggressive, callous, and quick to honk or yell at me no matter how many rules I follow. The hostility is really demoralizing.

    They act totally different when I’m riding in a nice area and not alone.

  • A transportation justice perspective would prioritize serving “bicycle-dependent” communities in addition to serving transit-dependent communities. Perhaps recognizing that many socially under-empowered cyclists are dependent on their bicycles to live their lives (such as for reasons mentioned by Einztine) means we have to route nice wide bike lanes into low-income communities of color as soon as possible… Rather than leave them under wholes in the bike network, like what you see is the case in Oakland (see the bike map and look at everything east and south of the Lake: http://www.oaklandpw.com/AssetFactory.aspx?did=2224 ).

  • Planning Student

    Immigrants are often in low paying jobs where there is a lot of pressure on them to get from one place to another, quickly. Various delivery guys.

    Just some food for thought for Riley.

  • graciela.

    I have to agree with what some others have said. Riding in the sidewalk is seen by many, not just immigrants, as a safe place to ride a bike because you’re not side by side with a car. As many of us know, that’s not really the case especially when entering an intersection from a sidewalk.

    For some of these guys, a bike is just a means of transportation so they wouldn’t get caught up in the more mainstream cycling communities that are about the environment, advocacy, safety, urban planning, etc. They just want to get from point A to point B and they don’t have enough info on their rights or what is safe. A traffic ticket or any hassle with the cops is just going to be scary and would probably make them even more invisible.

    But I will say, that when I ride at night, I see lots of immigrants with lights, helmets, and some are riding in the bike lane going with traffic. So the word is getting out somehow.

  • marcotico

    If you observe the way many of these people use their bikes you will see that bikes are not seen as an alternative form of transportation like driving, or riding the bus, but rather seen as an extension of pedestrianism. They cycle very slowly and use the sidewalks, because that is what they do when they walk. I’ve seen a few occasions of bikes without working brakes. That is not because the rider is reckless, but because he (usually a he) has no intention of going fast enough to need them.

    I think the work that Ciudad de Luces does is great, and it does open up a new way of seeing the bicycle to these users.

  • We’re starting a Complete Streets project in Pacoima (a working-class immigrant community in the Northeast San Fernando Valley of LA) and are definitely drawing heavily from Ciudad de Luces for their wisdom – and their excellent Spanish-language bike guide. Similar to CdL’s community in central LA, here in the NESFV, we see a tremendous number of residents who rely on bikes, buses, and their two feet to get from place to place – often with few resources or bike safety training – and often in the blistering hot Valley sun. Similar efforts are also underway in at least two other working-class immigrant communities in the LA area: Boyle Heights through a joint effort of the LA County Bike Coalition and Green LA, as well as in Azusa.

    Thanks so much for covering this issue and giving a much-deserved shout-out to the incredible work Ciudad de Luces is doing!

  • brent

    To combat the same issues this article brings up, I recently started a new program at the non-profit where I work to educate Latinos in cycling and improve their community integration.

    Check it here: http://latinobiketour.blogspot.com/

    Take it to your town!

  • Thanks for this! Ciudad de Luces has a tough row to hoe here in Los Angeles, where the Latino community sprawls throughout the San Fernando Valley and the city’s Southside. Roads are dangerous and awareness is low.
    I see that this Friday, our city council has on its agenda the downgrading (imagine that!) of Century Boulevard, which runs through the heart of both the African-American and Latino communities in South LA.
    In conjunction with a new plan just for a large, and much crime plagued, public housing complex, Jordan Downs, up for discussion is the ‘green streets’ treatment for the corridor – which may be the most progressive change to his this area in forever….or at least since the working-class white folks fled decades ago.
    This could be a model to emulate that would greatly acknowledge the safety threats faced by these ‘invisible’ cyclists.

  • It’s a great piece of knowledge. Thanks for this great post.

    Fort Worth Traffic Lawyer