The Invisible Cyclists: Immigrants and the Bike Community

Video by Alex Schmidt via

Last week, GOOD Magazine examined the role that the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s City of Lights program has taken in giving voice to the overlooked and under-represented bicyclists in Los Angeles County.  A program that started by handing out lights to immigrant cyclists and has become a national model for bicycle advocacy by focusing their efforts on safety to those who are most underserved by government.

The above film, by reporter and producer Alex Schmidt, is intended as a companion piece to the article in GOOD.  While cyclists around the country can learn a lot from City of Lights Coordinator Allison Mannos and the Bus Riders Union’s Sunyoung Yang, I was most intrigued by some of the voices I’m hearing for the first time such as City of Lights volunteer Arlen Jones or bike commuter Gil Maldonado.

The video does a great job explaining what City of Lights is really fighting for.  They’re not dedicating their lives to improving conditions and resources for immigrant cyclists because they think cycling is great and fun.  They’re doing it because making it attractive and safe to bicycle gives a new freedom to a population that is by-and-large car-free by necessity.

Taken in concert, the story and article do a great job outlining the twin challenges faced by City of Lights.  How does one get the city to address the needs of “invisible cyclists” and how do you reach out to a community that’s getting ignored. 

In the video, Daniel Rivera is asked if there were conditions that would make him consider biking.  Riveria finds cycling in L.A. too dangerous, so instead he borrows a car or bus fare to get around town.  He answers (translated by Scmidt to English):

Of course.  If there were bike lanes like there are in Santa Monica, then I would.  Otherwise it’s too dangerous.

From the article, Mannos was asked why so many bikes near the City of Lights Day Labor Center are chained to fences and not the new bike racks.  Her answer illustrates the second problem perfectly.  Just putting in new amenities is not enough, when a community isn’t looking for them.

Allison Mannos isn’t surprised. Immigrants, she says, are not accustomed to amenities that cater to them as cyclists. “They’re not used to someone giving them a light and saying, ‘What you’re doing is awesome, keep riding,” she says. “So it just takes a lot more education.”

Clearly, there’s a lot of work left to be done by the City, by City of Lights and by the rest of us.  You can read more about City of Lights at their blog, Ciudad de Luces.

  • Don Ward

    Truly inspiring. Just wondering, are there any programs in place to educate the cyclists with traffic skills classes?

  • City of Lights is such a rad program – something LA can truly be proud of – go Allison and all City of Lights peeps!

    This is a much needed program.

  • Thank you all for your support. Don/Roadblock–we do safety educational workshops, not necessarily the LCI model, since it’s a bit long and we needed to create interactive workshops that were tailored sufficiently to our population. But, we do do Safe Riding and Legal Rights workshops. Also, if anyone feels sufficiently moved by our work, please consider making a donation on our website:

  • Ben from Harlem

    What a great little video, and the accompanying article is even better.

    At a number of different Community Board meetings in NYC, I have plead a similar case for how bike lanes and other bike infrastructure helps everybody, not just wealthy fancy bike riders. I like to point out, “Lots of us get our food, laundry, and other things delivered to us by a worker on a bicycle. He probably doesn’t have health insurance, so he sure doesn’t have the cash to pay out of pocket if he gets hurt in an accident. So as long as we all depend upon poor people riding bikes for us to be comfortable in our lifestyle, we should make sure they are safe.

    And I’d love to see us in NYC start something similar to City of Lights to distribute lights here. Especially now that it’s winter, you see so many bikes without lights. Watch out!

  • wanderer

    It would be a great thing if the “face” of bicycle advocacy in all ciities could begin to change. Often bike advocacy is dominated by young White males, even though the biking population is obviously far broader. This mismatch can lead to 1) representation of the interest of certain cyclists but not others and 2) mistaken assumptions on the part of governmental staff and elected officials about who cyclists are

  • Andy Rodriguez

    Don, there is classes available to the cyclists in regards to bike safety and cyclists rights! I have been teaching classes to them for about 2 years now. I am proud to be working for City of Lights.