Conquering the Unbearable Whiteness of Bike Advocacy: An Equity How-To

In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino community members learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility
In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino residents learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility

Many bicycle advocacy groups find themselves in a sticky position today: They’re increasingly aware that their membership doesn’t reflect the diversity of the broader population, but they’re not sure how to go about recruiting new members, or how to do it in a way that doesn’t amount to tokenism.

The League of American Bicyclists has been working hard to address equity in the bike movement, and their collaboration with a wide variety of local groups has led them to share some of the most successful practices in a new report, The New Movement: Bike Equity Today. Here are some how-tos, drawn from the report, for people who want to bring new voices into the movement.

Listen. How can bike advocates be sure that the infrastructure solutions and education programs they’re promoting work for everyone unless they ask everyone — or better yet, get everyone at the table in the first place when designing the advocacy program? “You can’t just go and say, ‘We need you to show up at a meeting,'” says Karen Overton of New York’s Recycle-a-Bicycle. “That’s not the way to do it. People may reach out to African American churches and say, they don’t call us back. But what if you actually go to church and then start talking?”

Elevate new leaders. Portland’s Community Cycling Center trained 12 members of the low-income, Latino housing developments they were working with to be bike educators “to cultivate and sustain [a] community-led bike culture.” The trainings were led in Spanish. “These projects also represent the promise that the best solution to barriers to bicycling are created by those experiencing the barriers,” said CCC Director Alison Hill Graves, “particularly when there are cultural, income, or age differences.” Local Spokes of New York City has a Youth Ambassadors program in which local teens explored the Lower East Side and Chinatown by bike, learning about urban planning, bicycle infrastructure, community organizing, public space, and gentrification along the way. They then created educational materials to share what they learned with local residents. “In the short term, youth became educators, stewards, and champions of this work,” says the League.

Tailor the message. LA’s Multicultural Communities for Mobility found that the most needed bicycle education for undocumented immigrants was that which highlighted local laws and cyclists’ legal rights. And WE (Women’s Empowerment) Bike NYC is careful about language, too. They found that the word “cyclist” was alienating to people just dipping their toes in. And of course, bike education materials and “fix-a-flat” spoke cards had to be translated into other languages. In Long Beach, Bike to Church Day was a way of engaging the African-American community, particularly around health issues.

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition's Bici Centro invites people from all backgrounds to learn together how to fix and maintain their bicycles for free. Photo credit: Christine Bourgeois
The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition’s Bici Centro invites people from all backgrounds to learn together how to fix and maintain their bicycles for free. Photo credit: Christine Bourgeois

Meet people where they are. Simply holding a bike planning meeting isn’t enough to get feedback from everyone who has a stake in a project. Advocates should approach groups that come from or are already working with the communities they want to engage, find out what issues they’re working on that are fertile ground for collaboration, and build relationships.

Teach skills. Though DIY skills workshops can involve more time commitment than many people have, they’re also a way to impart lasting knowledge to a community. Give them a bike and they’ll bike until they get a flat or their brakes wear out. Teach them mechanics and they bike for a lifetime. When those bike workshops involve an “earn-a-bike” reward at the end, like Recycle-a-Bicycle in New York, even better.

Engage partners with more resources. To produce a Spanish-language bus ad and PSA about bicycle safety, Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM) secured pro-bono services from Melograna Productions and LADOT, which paid to print and display 1,000 of the posters at bus stop kiosks.

It’s bigger than bikes. Jenna Burton, founder of Oakland’s Red, Bike and Green, says that biking has become an entry point for talking about health, sustainability, and economic and environmental conditions. Many groups use biking as a way to address deeper issues and injustices. MCM, for instance, now teams up with Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity and Social Action to incorporate community organizing, media training, and urban planning skills into program on bicycle mechanics and bicycle safety. “In essence, these workshops encouraged participants to promote bicycle advocacy as a tool to address environmental and social justice issues in their communities,” says MCM’s Miguel Ramos.

Be visible. Other African-Americans used to ask Ed Ewing, now of the Cascade Bicycle Club, if he was “turning white” because he rode a bike, and all the white people at bike races looked at him like an alien. Major Taylor bike groups and other cyclists of color sponsor group rides, in part, to show others in their community that, yes, people that look like them ride bikes. Visibility also provides — without engaging in debate — a retort to the charge that bike lanes are a harbinger of gentrification because they only serve white people. New York’s Biking Public Project made visibility an art form with its bike portrait project in Jackson Heights. Not only did it show portraits of cyclists of color, it gave those cyclists a way of identifying more closely with their mode of transportation.

The Biking Public Project in New York took bike portraits of Jackson Heights residents to show the diversity of riders. Photo: ##
The Biking Public Project in New York took bike portraits of Jackson Heights residents to show the diversity of riders. Photo: ##

Look beyond the low-hanging fruit. “Many city bike/ped coordinators are pressured for immediate results,” says Keith Holt of the Wisconsin Bike Federation and Milwaukee Bike Works. “Therefore they mainly install any new bike lanes, especially innovative ones like separated bike lanes, in or near communities already riding in strong numbers.” But just putting lanes in low-income communities isn’t enough either, he says: “Realistic access to affordable bike ownership and repair will make a huge impact, too.”

Give people their own space. At last year’s Bike Summit, I heard a lot of men complaining that the Women’s Summit should be better integrated into the main event instead of scheduled a day earlier. But I didn’t hear a lot of women saying that. Often, people who are marginalized in a larger movement need a space of their own. “It isn’t a separate space; it’s a space within this larger space,” says Naomi Doerner of NOLA Women on Bikes. “It’s not to the detriment, it’s to the enrichment, of the community.” The Twin Cities’ Cycles for Change holds a weekly Women & Trans night, “creating an inviting space for female-identified riders to learn and practice basic maintenance and mechanics.”

Correct the past. “From a historical perspective, transportation infrastructure development has not worked out for black and brown people,” says Anthony Taylor of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Minnesota. “The last time we had a major fundamental shift it was the expansion of highway system — and the African American community was significantly impacted by it. There’s case after case after case where that shift literally destroyed historically African-American neighborhoods.” Taylor says “infrastructure” may not be the first thing on the minds of communities of color, but health improvement and street safety could be high priorities. “It’s relationships first, understanding the culture and motivations first,” he says. “And then infrastructure can be a solution.”

More meetings? No thanks.  The League doesn’t specifically say this, but it’s impossible to miss the fact that none of the groups profiled drew in new members by inviting them to meetings. Bike workshops, yes. Trainings, yes. Group rides, yes. Bicycling is fun and inspiring — the social aspect of bike activities and rides is key to drawing in people of all backgrounds and keeping their interest.

Mentor newcomers. Toronto’s Partnership for Integration and Sustainable Transportation has a Bike Hosts program to match bike-curious newcomers with regular riders to ride together and map out good routes for the mentee.

Make it free. Repair classes that end with a free bike, bike light giveaways, and community bike libraries are great ways to make healthy, sustainable transportation accessible to more people.

29 thoughts on Conquering the Unbearable Whiteness of Bike Advocacy: An Equity How-To

  1. “How can bike advocates be sure that the infrastructure solutions and education programs they’re promoting work for everyone…”

    Education, yes. But infrastructure?

    Because proper CROW standard protected infrastructure only works for people who are ethnically Dutch? Concrete protective barriers and security bollards only protect white people?

    It has been a while since I’ve heard anyone say, “Let’s design car infrastructure solutions for racial minority car drivers.”

    In The Netherlands, immigrant communities tend to have double-digit cycling mode share. In the USA they do not. Wonder why?

    The answer is that proper, safe infrastructure gets everyone cycling. It does not matter if they are white, black or purple with pink polka-dots. Concrete and steel really do not care about your ethnic or racial background.

  2. I support the LAB in this mission but I think it’s focusing way too much of its resourced on it. It needs to get back to its roots and protect the rights of cyclists to use the roadways. Every case I read about people (men and women) being ticketed and fined, sometimes even jailed for riding in the road, the LAB is NOWHERE to be found.

    Out of all the passionate, spandex clad and yes, mostly white male cyclists that I know, maybe only 2% are members of LAB. When I asked why they aren’t they tell me that LAB is totally irrelevant to them. When the League of American BICYCLISTS can’t get people who own $10,000 bikes to pony up $40 buck for yearly membership, I think they got a problem!!!

    Imagine all the LAB could do to promote cycling for ALL if they could harness all that passion and money from all those White (Black, Hispanic), male (and female) mostly rich, spandex clad cyclists!!!

  3. The great think about cycling is that it’s color blind. So are most cyclists. Leave it to the NPR chick to make it all about race. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously by people who want to kill me every time I ride. Now this? Please.

  4. Infrastructure is built in neighborhoods, and in the United States, many neighborhoods are not racially integrated. This country has a long way to go before there is decent infrastructure everywhere. The neighborhoods that get decent infrastructure often are the places where advocates have leverage on city council members. Those are the places where the advocates live and ride. Without advocates who live in non-White neighborhoods, getting decent infrastructure in non-White neighborhoods is much harder.

  5. Calm down son. This is about broadening a movement that excludes people of color. Don’t worry – your whiteness won’t suffer too much from it.

  6. $10,000 bikes are mostly used for racing and/or long recreational rides. So I wouldn’t expect the people who have them to be particularly interested in issues of urban commuter cycling, no matter how much outreach LAB does (unless they happen to also be urban riders.)

    Not trying to put down racing at all, it’s just a different beast.

  7. That’s not necessarily true. Where you have a history of disinvestment in both the socio-economic and physical infrastructure of a community, the physical environment, in particular, often requires much more adjustment to make it feel welcoming to people (take Boyle Heights, one of the communities I cover, where red-lining and other discriminatory policies isolated and carved up the community with freeways, including one which was built through the lake in their park). That disinvestment has also often resulted in a situation where you have contested public space (thanks to gang or crime issues and/or harassment of people of color by law enforcement) and cars are not the only safety concern keeping spaces from being accessible. Investments in people and programming around infrastructure can be important in making residents feel it is safe for them to be in the streets. Access to co-ops or affordable bikes and repairs can also be key. For some of the poor, even minor repairs can really set them back.

    I find it so surprising that people (generally speaking) have an issue with this report — either its existence or its conclusions. I know these issues are generally overlooked by advocates, so they are not addressed in a meaningful way in mainstream advocacy circles. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or that they don’t have important implications for the way that planning and engagement needs to happen in different communities if those efforts are to be successful. We all have the same goal of making communities safer, healthier, and more livable. It shouldn’t be controversial to address the fact that past (and present) policies and practices mean that different communities have different hurdles that must be overcome for that to happen.

  8. The only group who can install bike infrastructure is the authorities. Ordinary people and advocates for people on bicycles can’t install bike infrastructure.

    The issue I have with this is that it diminishes the contributions of ordinary people on bikes to bicycle advocacy. A focus on providing infrastructure relieves bicycle advocates of any need to actually talk to other people. The David Hembrow blog is heavy on discussions of paint and concrete, light on discussions with people of what actually gets them in the saddle.

    As someone who enjoys bicycling, I appreciate the opportunity to use my enthusiasm to support other people who bike. Reading this report inspired me and made me feel better about being an advocate for bicycling and a role model in my community.

  9. That is the heart of this issue, in my opinion. Thanks for stating it so succinctly so I can stop trying to come up with a good way of saying it, and get back to work. 🙂

  10. Bicycling is a very small minority as a type of transportation. Most of my time advocating has been working to try and get it more mainstream.

    Removing a motor vehicle lane to install bike lanes on North Figueroa St in northeast Los Angeles was turned down by the Latino council member because he sees bicycling as a tiny minority and going against the majority viewpoint–which is drivers.

    There are three zip code areas of Los Angeles that have by far the highest percent of bicycling commuting, according to Census Bureau household survey results.

    The highest bicycling share of commuters by zip code in Los Angeles is just above USC. Why of course, that’s mostly white students from upper income families, right?

    The second highest bicycle commuting mode share by zip code is in the Venice beach area. Exactly! More white, well to do people.

    Venice Beach is closely followed by a Canoga Park zip code for the third highest bicycle commuting in LA. Why of course, more well to do white people who live in suburbia, right? No, these are mostly working poor Latino who use a bicycle to get from A to B. The bicycle commuting rate in this Canoga Park zip code (4.1%) is equal to the highest bicycling rate zip code in the city of Santa Monica–which has by far the highest bicycling rate of any city in the county.

    By small Census population tracts, it becomes obvious where most of the bicycling is coming from in Canoga Park. Its mainly in two population tracts that are side by side between Canoga Ave and De soto Ave.

    Just coincidently, there was an extension of the Orange Line bike path made along Canoga Ave in 2012. Do I think there should have been extensive community outreach to see what the wants and needs of the residents were? Hell no! Just put the dang thing in, so bicycling can be more useful for the people who live nearby. I’m happy as hell that a bike path was built next to the highest concentration of bicycling in the San Fernando Valley. If someone would have asked me beforehand where the priority would be for a bike path in the SFV, I would have said at this location in Canoga Park if I had the information about its cycling rate beforehand.

    The design of the path at intersections along Canoga Ave was designed for pedestrians, instead of cyclists, which is a major flaw, but its consistent with how all the other Orange Line bike path intersections were built–which is strictly by the book. A traffic engineering manual that is used states that if your in the street, then your a vehicle, if your not in the street then your a pedestrian–a person on a bicycle doesn’t really fit in with either the pedestrians or motorists

    The first protected bike lane or cycle track (besides a tunnel) to be built in Los Angeles is going to be on south Figueroa St next to USC. If I had been asked where the priority for the first cycle track in Los Angeles should be, I would have said a street in close proximity to USC where the greatest concentration of people bicycling exists in the city. This will show that installing a cycle track in a densely populated can succeed in Los Angeles because of the instant supply of thousands of USC students. If it was done on another street with a high volume of traffic, then it could be seen as a flop with bicycle traffic building up slowly.

    One of greatest concentrations of bicycle lanes installed in any area of the country has recently been made in the city of Los Angeles port community of Wilmington.

    This is a community that is 86% latino with an average income for the city of Los Angeles and a less than average use of transit.

    Should there have been endless meetings to get the input of the community about this? Hell no! The LADOT and council member saw an opportunity to do both traffic calming for safety and to install lots of bike lanes. Meetings would just slow the whole process down and given the opportunity for the dominant drivers to reject some of it.

    I’m tired of seeing drivers given the opportunity to reject safety improvements for bicycling. What other types of transportation is the public given ample time and place to shoot down safety improvements? And what other form of transportation are people forced to move in a single file, other than bicycling?

    This creates a rare opportunity to see what happens when a tightly knit concentration of bike lanes is installed in an area in a short amount of time without outside influences such as bicycling organizations to promote the use of it. How quickly will more people start bicycling as a result of having installed bike infrastructure that is conveniently nearby and that is a continuous network of bikeways. Also, this can serve as a model of what will likely occur as the bike plan proceeds. This level of concentration of bikeways is something that may never have been done anywhere else in North America.

    Here’s another example: the recently opened bike path along San Fernando Rd in the SFV. Do I think that the community should have been asked beforehand what the money should have been used for? Hell no! Driving dominates there. This project would have been rejected as a waste of taxpayer money as there isn’t very many bicycle riders in the area (or pedestrians for that matter) to justify the cost of building this separated bikeway. This street functions as a 35 mph speedway that has no on-street parking and its very difficult to either walk or ride a bicycle on the sidewalk on the other side of the street that is full of obstacles to transverse.

    I want communities to explain what the transportation problems are to the government agencies and the traffic engineers should ride a bicycle in the areas that they intend to work on, so that they can see how it functions from the standpoint of the user. This is sadly rarely done in the U.S. When the Dutch delegation to the LA Thinkbike workshop were here three years ago, the lead Dutch engineer insisted that everyone bicycle around the area to be worked on in the workshop. I asked her if that is normally the case in the Netherlands and her response was that she insists that every engineer under her ride in the area that they will work on to see it from the cyclists point of view.

  11. Erica, my whole point is that LAB was established originally for the enthusiast, NOT the occasional urban commuter! Most people who ride high-end bikes have a real passion for making cycling safer for not just themselves but for all. Most want to share the joy of cycling with as many as possible. Many also commute by bike, some travel distances everyday that would blow your mind! (I knew one shop owner who rode 30 miles to work ONE-WAY! And did so all year round!) That LAB now all but ignores those who most passionate about cycling as well as their needs is a BIG mistake in my opinion.

    BTW, I’m a member of LAB and would let my membership lapse for all the reasons I state above if I weren’t also an LCI.

    I joke around that they should rename themselves “The League of Americans Who Occasionally Ride Bicycles.”

  12. Apparently even traffic safety and biking are now social justice warrior issues. All these “X is too white” SJWs should finally be happy once whites are a minority by 2050.

  13. That sounds good, but it certainly doesn’t hold true for Los Angeles over the last three and a half years.

    The LADOT has been putting in bike lanes wherever they could find the room to put them–regardless of whats on the bike plan or what neighborhood it is.

    Bike paths are put in railroad right-of-ways and next to waterways. If you live close to the LA river, then your much more likely to have a bike path built near you–since having a path along the entire LA river is a major goal of the city.

    The highest population density areas of the city are getting little of that, regardless if they are rich or poor. That’s simply due to these areas being fully built out and no waterways or railroad right-of-ways space available for bike paths. The roads in these areas are also congested with motor vehicles, so that eliminates bike lanes in most cases.

  14. In computer terms, you’re correct. In practical human terms, being noninclusive does equal exclusive, especially when history is excluded.

  15. You are looking at whether or not neighborhoods have infra. Which is indeed a class/racial issue.

    The article talked about what kind of infra to use. That is most emphatically not.

    For example, putting a bike lane in the door zone of adjacent parked cars makes that bike lane the most dangerous place on the entire road in which to ride a bicycle. It makes no difference if the cyclist is black or white or blue or pink.

  16. Since you mentioned Mr. Hembrow…

    Here is his look at immigrant communities cycling. See:

    Note that almost all immigrant communities have double-digit cycling mode share. A close miss is the Turkish community with “only” 9% cycling mode share.

    This is probably due to Islam discouraging women from cycling. Here is a quite disturbing article about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s efforts to discourage women cycling:

  17. No one is actually color blind in the relevant sense you mention. We all form implicit associations around people based on all sorts of visual characteristics, including race. Just as a driver will pass you closer if you’re wearing a helmet than not (even without realizing it), we’ll all interact differently with people if they look like they fit into a different social class. Pretending to be color blind means that you completely ignore these differences.

  18. Andy B – the problem with your approach is the the number of ‘super commuters’ or people who have high end bicycles represents a very small fraction of the population. Yes, they are passionate about bicycling, but it means *nothing* if you are trying to influence the political process to make significant safety changes on streets or promote bicycle access. If only 2% of the constituents of a councilor, supervisor, or legislator are in that demographic then they aren’t going to do anything to help, even if the only thing you want are laws to preserve access to the streets by vehicular cyclists.

    Read the comments below – when you have people like the Latino councilor refusing to endorse removal of a car lane to slow down traffic that’s not a failure of enthusiasm, it’s a failure of advocacy, because that person doesn’t see any reason to help people who ride bikes. They are simply not part of his constituency. Building broad based support for bicycle improvements helps everyone, though – even those that ride the high end bicycles, because the more people you have out riding, the safer it will be, and the broader support there will be for changes that will make cycling safer for *everyone*.

  19. You’re totally missing my point. I’m not saying that LAB has to ONLY represent the needs of the 2%, just the contrary! They NEED to represent the needs of the 2% AND all the other potential and/or transportation cyclists out there! In my opinion the are failing miserably at representing the needs of the enthusiast who are their membership base. And without a membership base, you don’t have an organization!

    They claim to represent 57 million Americans who ride bicycles but they only have 25,000 paying members (a pathetically low number). They also claim to have 300,000 affiliated cyclists.* These are people who are members of various LAB sanctioned cycling clubs from all across the nation, almost all of whom would be considered enthusiasts. What have they done for the 300,000 lately? Not much in my opion but leach off their membership dues as they go off on their still well meaning and admirable “political correctness” campaign!

    Again, I do not disapprove of the LAB’s campaign of making cycling more accessible to all Americans. They just need to remember who their membership base is again.

    * – Source: American Bicyclists Sep. – Oct. 2014

  20. That’s been my experience in Chicago. Majority white neighborhoods got the biggest bike infra projects first. I live in an integrated, diverse neighborhood on the far south side and have formed partnerships with black advocates in majority black neighborhoods to push for more/better bike infra in those neighborhoods. This year we’re starting to see results in a big way after years of advocacy work.

  21. I’m assuming this post is responding to me, but I’m not clear on what your point is or what I said that you are responding to? Or if it is that you have an issue with the equity report? And your examples are rather confusing… the case of Wilmington, for example, is problematic in that it seems to have been a case of the lowest-hanging fruit and a way for agencies to claim bike lanes were striped, even if they were on very wide streets where no community process/street adjustments were necessary, safety (from cars) was not necessarily an issue, and don’t really enhance connectivity (going mostly north-south, but not connecting effectively to each other). It is also a bit ironic that in a port zone with some of the worst air quality — so bad that there are days people are warned not to go outside — that they have all these lanes to help them get “healthy.” Community advocates made some of the same complaints I did above, which were that, in addition to the air issues, gang activity and police harassment keep cyclists from feeling that they could actually access the infrastructure. They also felt like the lanes were a way for the city to be able to say they had done this positive thing for them without actually making a move to deal with the deeper environmental issues and neglect their community has endured over the years.

    The Cedillo example is not helpful either — just because he’s Latino doesn’t mean he can’t be as dumb and obstinate as any other politician. His reasons for opposing a bike lane are responding to his own weird logic, not any clear commitment to the community. He claimed to want to promote ped. safety first, but the pedestrian conditions along, say, Cypress, or around the area where they are rebuilding the Riverside bridge, are absolutely abysmal. Half or more of the lights are out on Cypress and the sidewalks are narrow, cracked up, and missing curb cuts. And, there are genuine concerns in that community among the longer-term, lower-income Latino residents about gentrification and the rapid turnover seen along York potentially taking hold along Figueroa. And it’s not something the bike advocates really addressed in that first round of battles with Cedillo (not that he genuinely cares about these himself, for the record). “Bikes mean business” is a favorite mantra, but the truth is that they don’t mean business for everyone, and it is often the immigrant-owned businesses that lose out in an area undergoing gentrification. There are a lot of great folks fighting the good fight for the lane there, and they’re working to broaden their base now…hopefully that will bear fruit and strengthen community relations at the same time.

    Again, I’m not sure what you were responding to but my main points in my first comment were that infrastructure is important, but that infrastructure alone isn’t enough –either to count as equity or to reap the same results as they might in a different location, or to fit the different visions different communities have for what constitutes livability. And its why it is important that efforts be made to ensure that everyone have a place at the table.

  22. “Investments in people and programming around infrastructure can be important in making residents feel it is safe for them to be in the streets.”

    This is what is called “Social Safety.” For example, when entering a cycling underpass it should always be possible to see through to the other side. That way I know that nobody is lurking there.

    Yes, this is addressed by the CROW standards and proper Dutch infrastructure. See:

    An excerpt of social safety infrastructure rules:

    “You should always be able to see out of any tunnel as you enter it.

    Blind corners on paths are not acceptable.

    Cycle paths should be wide to allow cyclists to move out of the way of others.

    A low crime rate and a good conviction rate are needed. Cyclists should not feel that the police do not take their complaints seriously.

    Areas that are clean, litter free, graffiti free, where grass is mowed and plants are not allowed to overhang the cycle path have a better feeling of social safety.

    Cycle paths should be lit at night so that you can see potential muggers, obstacles on the path etc.”

  23. Having separation from cars is an issue for the majority of people who would consider bicycling. Installing a simple separation from motor vehicles with stripes for bike lanes on relatively calm streets that are connected into a closely network may encourage more people to ride. Bike lanes not only separate bicycles from motor vehicles, its also a form of traffic calming. Putting bike lanes on wide residential streets is not going to be repeated elsewhere in the city, but traffic calming on residential streets for bicycles is.

    A connected network is supposed to be the most important aspect for getting people to use a bicycle for transportation. These bike lanes in Wilmington are almost all connected into a compact network. Having bikeways conveniently located nearby is also supposed to have an impact on whether people choose to bicycle. That’s also the situation for at least part of Wilmington.

    Your assumption seems to be that that these closely knit network of bike lanes in Wilmington won’t make much of a impact increasing the rate of bicycling for various reasons. My guess is that it probably will based on averages of bike lane installations in other large cities in the U.S. and experiments that took place in the Netherlands. Its certainly not an ideal layout of mostly short bike lanes for a community, but not getting a perfect network (or any network at all) is the norm, rather than an exception for the U.S.

    The bicycle commuting rate in Wilmington is about 20% above the average for the city of LA. Crime, pollution and police harassment can certainly be deterrents to bicycling and that’s another reason why having all these bike lanes installed there will give a good indication of whether this will make a significant change in the rate of bicycling. If it works in Wilmington, then its likely that it would work in most areas of LA.

    If this does make a significant difference, then it should show up in the Census Bureau household survey results for bicycle commuting. This is about the only way to make the most accurate comparisons between communities or cities. If the zip code for Wilmington has a significant increase compared to other zip code areas in LA, then the five-year average results by zip code should reflect that. Unfortunately, it could take 2 or more years before that can be determined as the results are of the primary means of transportation to work. Just going by average results of other cities from bike lane installations, the bicycle commuting rate in Wilmington should at least double as a result of the miles of bike lanes installed.

    The LADOT put a large amount of bike lanes in Wilmington because it was looking to install a large amount of bike lane miles and Wilmington had the space to put them in. There really wasn’t any other reason than that. Mayor Villaraigosa had a goal of having more bike lane miles under his administration than all the other mayors previous and that’s the main reason why the DOT looked any and everywhere for places to put them. The council member for the area seems to be supportive of of putting in the bike lanes–which certainly helps since some of the streets required a road diet to put in bike lanes, though the streets had excess capacity which enabled the LADOT to put them in without necessarily getting an individual council member approval.

    I really don’t get it when someone mentions all of these other things that are required to get people to bicycle in a poor area besides infrastructure. Having a bicycle is the first thing you need, but without a place to ride, that item is pretty useless. Infrastructure is really the most important part of the equation.

    The fact that about 3/4 of the commuting trips in areas such as Watts or Boyle Heights are done in a car that probably cost at least $7,500, rather than on a $75 bicycle, seems to be completely ignored. Also, monthly transit passes are over $100, or $1,200 a year–the cost of using a bicycle is a mere fraction of that.

    You stated that access to co-ops or affordable bikes and repairs can be a key and that for some of the poor, even minor repairs can really set them back. Most of the workers in these communities are commuting in cars that cost them thousands of dollars or hundreds of dollars per year in transit costs. Co-ops, affordable bikes and repairs will naturally occur once the infrastructure to ride a bicycle on is in place and people take up bicycling in greater numbers.

    Here’s an example of a high crime and very high poverty city where bikeways were installed and made a significant difference in people’s lives–Bogota Columbia:

    Don’t expect communities to suggest that bike lanes or paths are what they need to better their lives. To most communities in the U.S. bicycles have very little relevance to their lives, its just not an important subject to them. Its fighting an uphill battle to get bikeways installed where it takes away space from motor vehicles. Getting community support for bicycling in any area where car travel dominates is difficult.

    You state that low income Latino residents are concerned about gentrification. In other words, if improvements are made to their community, then it will make it more desirable to live there and likely run up the cost of housing or businesses. So what’s the alternative, do nothing to improve their living conditions?

    Bicycling advocacy involves a very small amount of people. Expecting it to cure all of the social ills before it can succeed at getting a significant increase for bicycling in poorer areas is simply not true. Just getting bicycle infrastructure installed has been shown time and time again to get more people to bicycle. The population density of an area is much more of a indication of the rate of bicycling that can be expected, rather than the income or crime level of an area.

    The fact that people who tend to advocate and go to meetings are usually more educated is not a detriment. Rising water floats all boats. Getting more people to bicycle does the same thing. CicLAvia provided some of the political motivation to set aside Measure R money for pedestrians and bicycles. The higher costs involved with bicycle sharing might be seen as an extravagance for more well to do people, but if it gets more people trying bicycling for daily trips, it will then break down some of the resistance of installing bicycle infrastructure.

    Asking communities what designs they want or need to improve transportation is expecting them to be traffic engineers, which they are not. Again, bicycle infrastructure will rarely be on their list for transportation that will improve their lives.

    Here’s an example of a change in intersection design that had not been tried before and the community seemed skeptical that it would work, but without it the community might have disappeared:

  24. I feel like you are having a very separate conversation from the one that I am, and are assuming that underserved communities will always categorically oppose bike infrastructure (hence the silly question about whether people’s neighborhoods should never be improved).

    I never said that and I don’t think other equity advocates would argue that either. As I’ve written about extensively, communities want to be partners in their own development. And that it is incredibly important (particularly in gentrifying neighborhoods) that those on the margins be included in the planning process so that they can benefit from and take advantage of any infrastructure that comes into their neighborhood. You may be able to cite trip percentages on Watts, but clearly have little understanding of just how incredibly contested that public space is… there are 25 gangs within a 2 mile radius, and every square inch of space is accounted for by somebody. Perhaps you’ve never been unlucky enough to live in a community under siege, but I can tell you how incredibly effective even the rumor of an impending shooting can be in clearing the streets for days and months at a time. Parents generally don’t allow their kids to even play in their front yards, and that’s when things are going well. And the relationship with law enforcement, while improving, is still incredibly toxic. Particularly thanks to the Sheriffs. The Sheriffs even stopped me for riding my bike because they found me and the act of riding around suspicious. They do much worse to the community members that live there (including, in some cases, pilfering money from some of the youth I know, tossing racial epithets at them, humiliating them, roughing them up, etc.).

    Much, much more than bike infrastructure is necessary for Watts to be a safe environment…and I say that as someone who deeply, deeply loves that community. It doesn’t mean people don’t want access to their public space or won’t benefit from things like bike lanes being there, but it does mean there must be programming around that infrastructure for those lanes to be accessible (clubs like Los Ryderz and ESRBC work tirelessly to help reclaim public space, but they can’t do it on their own). And, having spent too many hours sitting in my friend’s bike shop on Wilmington in Watts, I can tell you that bikes can turn out to be expensive for the poorest of the poor. Because they often begin with second or third-hand bikes that were not that great to begin with (from Walmart, for ex.), they break down often and an $8 repair can set people back, especially if they are breaking down more than once a month and they have to travel long distances to get to a bike shop (which it is hard to find time to do when they are working 2 jobs or don’t have access to transportation). That may sound crazy to some, but that’s how deep poverty can run in some areas of town.

    I’m going to stop the conversation here because, again, I’m still not sure what your original argument against my first comment was, other than the assumption you seem to have projected onto me–one I do not hold–that underserved communities don’t like infrastructure. And I don’t see anything controversial in suggesting that planners do a better job at engaging those on the margins to ensure they are part of a community’s future, especially in communities where they have deliberately been left out of or harmed by development decisions in the past. But I’m sure we’ll take this up again on SBLA at some point.

  25. I’ll break down the points I’m trying to make to you into finer grain details.

    Kevin Love essentially said that proper, safe infrastructure gets everyone bicycling, it doesn’t matter what the people look like. You stated that this is not necessarily true, that the physical environment can take much more adjustment to make it welcoming for people. Then you go on to describe things that are neglected and lacking in some areas of the city. In essence you believe that simply putting in bicycle infrastructure in those types of areas will not work or it won’t have much of an affect on people’s lives.

    Putting in bike lanes on a busy street will only motivate about 7-8% of the adult population to bicycle there, according to a Portland survey–approximately the same results occurred in a study from a different area. This is in comparison to less than 1% of adults who would bicycle on a busy street that has no separation from motor vehicles. So, judging by that, putting in bike lanes is not going to be a cure for all that ails them in an area where they are installed, but it can make a significant increase in the number of people bicycling.

    I mentioned the community of Wilmington, where there were 3 streets with unconnected bike lanes in 2010 and now there is a closely knit network of 20 streets that have bike lanes and only one of these do not connect to another bike lane. I went on to state that this a rare opportunity to see the affect of quickly installing a closely knit dense network of bikeways in a community. There have been studies of average results for miles of bike lane installations per population or square miles of land in large U.S. cities. But, what occurs if the bikeways are more connected and placed into a tight network? The Netherlands did a test of that in the early eighties, but so far as I know it hasn’t been done in the U.S.

    So, what does that have to do with what you said?

    Your response to what I stated about Wilmington involved a bunch of negative aspects to the bike lane installations, the unhealthy air, gang activity, police harassment, that a lot of them weren’t needed and essentially that this won’t make much of a different in getting more people to bicycle there.

    Funny how there were 20% more people commuting by bicycle under those conditions that you describe than the average throughout the city and there was only those 3 unconnected bike lanes for them to use in Wilmington.

    I don’t know how many more people will commute by bicycle as a result of putting in such a tightly knit network of bike lanes, but you sure the hell seem to. Oh gees that won’t work because of this and that. To me its one of the most exciting things that the city could have done to quickly give an example of the before and after results of putting in bikeways. If it does have a significantly greater increase in bicycling compared to other parts of the city, then this can be used as an example of what can be expected as bikeway installations go forward.

    I have a strong belief that giving people the option of bicycling for transportation can make a significant difference in their lives. Perhaps the crime activity will be reduced partially as a result of having more eyeballs on the streets, greater access to jobs, etc. I gave you the example of Bogota where bike paths and sidewalks were installed. The bicycling rate went from something like 0.1% to 5%. That is a high crime rate city with extreme poverty. Bicycling certainly seems to have made a difference in poor people’s lives there, but if you would have asked them beforehand what they needed I doubt that bike paths would be on the list since bicycles were irrelevant to their lives at that time.

    Having people hiding in fear in their homes and refusing to cooperate with police out of fear from retaliation from gangs is not going to reduce the crime rate. Driving keeps the residents isolated from what is occurring in the neighborhoods. Making it more inviting to bicycle can potentially reverse some of that.

    You revert back to telling about how the cost of a bicycle repair can set-back a poor person. Yet, you seem to be clueless that transportation is eating up a large part of the incomes of poor people due to them owing a car and taking transit. Bicycling can be the cheapest way to travel, other than walking and it can make transit more accessible.

  26. Internet, noun ?in-t?r-?net

    place where all human behavior is parsed and examined and pontificated on through the prism of race. If you like bikes what the flying fuck difference does it make what socially-constructed racial category you belong to – go hang out with other people who are into bikes. Or don’t. Has it ever occured to anyone that maybe some people who happen to be racial minorities also just happen to not give a shit about bicycles? There’s no need to outreach to nonwhites. It’s not like black people don’t know bicycles exist. Holy fuck.

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