A questioning look back at Bike to Work Day

A typical pit stop on the Westside

Don’t get me wrong.

I love Bike to Work Day. I had a blast yesterday trying to hit as many Westside pit stops as I could before making my way back to my home office to get down to work.

Which isn’t exactly the point, I know.

The idea is to encourage people who would otherwise drive to their places of employment to try bicycling by providing incentives and information, in the hope that once they try it, they’ll like it. And hopefully, keep doing it.

I get that.

And I enjoyed the opportunity to partake in a free rolling breakfast and gather up mini-Clif Bars and other assorted bike swag, while talking with other riders I might not otherwise meet on the roadway. As well as offering my insights to anyone looking for a little advice on bike commuting while, sadly, finding no takers.

Everyone I met seemed to know as much about the subject as I do.

Which is part of the problem.

As with many bike advocacy efforts, we too often find ourselves preaching to the choir; rewarding those who already ride rather than getting more people to leave their cars behind, if only for one day.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bicycling, and bicyclists, should be celebrated.

Whether or not some impatient drivers, or even the wider community at large chooses to acknowledge it at times — particularly when it involves removing a traffic lane in order to carve out a little space for those of us on two wheels.

The Santa Monica college pit stop sets up after a gun scare on campus

Every person who takes to a bike, rather than a motor vehicle, on the way to work or to run an errand removes another car from the traffic grid, reducing congestion for those who don’t. And at the same time, helps improve air quality, public health and quality of life for the surrounding community.

Not to mention countless other ancillary benefits, from supporting local merchants to staving off global warming, albeit to an infinitesimal degree.

All of which is reason for celebration and encouragement.

On the other hand, as I observed my fellow riders, I was struck by how similar they were to me. Mostly white, mostly male, apparently middle class.

In other words, people who appeared to have the luxury of choosing to ride a bike.

Missing entirely from any pit stop I visited was anyone who appeared to ride because it was their only personal transportation option. Those who ride to work on a daily basis because, for whatever reason, they can’t afford a car or can’t get a license.

The often immigrant, usually low income riders you see everywhere, but seldom notice.

Maybe it was a function of where I was, riding in a more affluent section of the city at a more traditional commuting hour. Maybe more effort had been made to reach out to Los Invisibles in other parts of town.

But here on the Westside, it felt like a lost opportunity to reach out to a community too often ignored in our attempts to promote bicycling and improve safety for all riders.

I know that’s not the point of Bike to Work Day.

But maybe it should be part of it.

  • Austin Brown

    On bike to work day, we had the smallest number of bikes in the bike parking area that we had all week. I don’t think we’re getting the word out to the non-bike commuting crowd.

  • Anonymous

    Agree, It becomes an echo chamber of “bike people” getting super pumped and” people who bike” not knowing about it. I was at the Sunset Triangle Plaza pit-stop and had a diverse crowd ride by and not stop.

  • ubrayj02

    The gist of these events is this: develop an event that, by its very existence, defies the goals it was created to champion.

  • Harv

    I guess you just visited the wrong pit stops. Ours (new start-up group) was set up at the Highland Park Rec. Center at Figueroa and Ave. 61. We were there on May 13 and May 16 from 9:00am until 3:00pm. We had several locals stop by (with and without bikes) for advice on buying a bike, to ask about good routes to use, to have their newly-acquired bikes checked out (one was a badly butchered garage sale find which we straightened out) and to ask about major repairs needed to get their bikes on the road. We will be setting up a new co-op in the Highland Park area and are negotiating with Metro for future Station pit stops on an on-going basis.

    Only one of our visitors fit your description of a typical rider and ALL were bike dependent or bike-seeking. None drove up to our pit stop in a car. So, the need for such events as Bike Week is apparent and our pit stops were a leading indicator of the possibilities. There is nowhere to go but up.

  • Your observations are true. Too often Bicycle Advocacy programs are focused on existing cyclists, mostly recreational who dont really care about improving bicycling for transportation. Many of the dominant problem definitions around biking are created by people who have a very narrow perception of the practice of cycling and dont understand the fundamental challenges.

  • Anonymous

    We had our first ever Bike to Work Day pit stop out here in the Antelope Valley on Thursday with very little publicity, as the decision to have the pit stop was last minute. So, we didn’t have a big turnout.

    Of the riders who came by, 5 were from our bike club who came by to support,. Of those 5, 3 were riding out to Edwards AFB, and 1 of them is actually retired, another was riding to work at a local court house. The last of the 5 works out in Mojave on swing shift and simply rode to the stop to support and get a donut.

    Two others were not riders at all, but rather appeared to be homeless men walking, but who looked terribly hungry, so I offered them donuts and made sure they each took extra Clif Bars.

    The 1 other rider was a man who rides his bike to work because of losing his driving privileges and he just happened upon the pit stop because we were next to a coffee shop where he was planning to buy coffee. He had no idea that there is an annual bike to work day, but was very pleased to pick up the Metro bike map and a couple of patch kits. He combines biking to work with transit, but on Thursday was meeting a friend with a car at a nearby park-and-ride to get to work all the way out in Mojave.

    We hope to get an earlier start on plans and preparations for next year, but I think we also need to think about:

    1) Location.
    2) How to encourage people who drive to bike.
    3) Reaching out to those Los Invisibles, because I think you make a good point about that.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Josef! Could you expand more on how to do that? This was our first year and I know we have a long way to go to develop an effective event.

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