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More Conversation About Not-So-Invisible Bicyclists

8:33 AM PST on February 2, 2010

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]hisresearch serves to highlight that transportation planning agenciesshould include immigrant communities in the planning of bicyclenetworks and facilities. There is little evidence that this iscurrently the case. In Los Angeles, a city with one of the largestconcentrations of immigrants in the United States, the city’s recentlyreleased draft Bicycle Master Plan Update was crafted without targetedoutreach to immigrant communities, and indeed the most significantelement of the public participation process was an internet survey….While the survey did not ask respondents questions related toimmigration, the public participation process on the whole does notappear to include input from low-income individuals such as low-incomeimmigrants. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case, with nearly85 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) weremembers of bicycle advocacy groups…. Indeed, as many have noted,typical public participation processes such as community meeting andpublic review processes tend to attract the attention and input oforganized and relatively powerful special-interest groups, whilefailing to receive meaningful input from others -- even when the issueat hand is important to those individuals…. Transportation planningagencies may therefore need to use targeted outreach processes in orderto receive meaningful input from immigrant cyclists on bicycle-relatedquestions.

Let's keep talking. It can't hurt.

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