Bicycling enthusiasts who are trying to build a cycling culture in their own cities — say, Fort Worth, where I live — tend to look for models in such bike-friendly places as Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., or Boulder, Colo.
That’s all well and good. Those three cities are ranked by Bicycling magazine as the most bike-friendly in the United States. All have impressive bike networks, high ridership figures and city governments committed to bicycling as an alternative means of transportation.
But a very interesting article by Adrian Leung and Allison Mannos on LA.STREETSBLOG.org argues that thriving bicycle cultures can be found in unlikely places — car-centric Los Angeles, for example — and among unlikely people: immigrants from all over the world who brought with them to America the notion that a bicycle is essential, utilitarian transport in the developing countries they came from.
“They are immigrants, or children of immigrants, from rural and urban parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa; their motivation to ride does not necessarily stem from an environmental or political stance. For them, bicycling is a cultural norm of inexpensive transportation that provides means for survival.”
The story noted that LA is “infamous for car culture and congestion.” But over the past 10 years, the nation’s second most populous city “has dramatically developed a large and visible bicycling community.”
“It boasts hundreds of monthly rides, over half a dozen bicycle repair community spaces, an outspoken advocacy community, and a recent ambitious update to its bicycle master plan. While some planners and advocates attribute these changes to Los Angeles adopting ideas from bike-friendlier cities, the characterization overlooks the fact that a substantial number of people already rode in relative invisibility — invisibility based on their race, immigration, or low-income status.
“Many of these riders live and/or work in neglected parts of Los Angeles including portions of Westlake/MacArthur Park, Downtown, South LA, Pacoima/Van Nuys, and East LA.” (See March 5 blog post, “Scraper bikes go global,” and March 3 post, “The wisdom of slum kids.”)
So a lesson for bicycling advocates, the story says, is that “outreach efforts should expand ideas of target communities, not only to fill the ranks with as many bicycling voices as possible, but also to create a comprehensively transformative movement.”
Frequently, the article said, cycling advocates tend to consider their target audience educated, middle-class white folks.
“This narrow approach in advocacy and planning,” said the report, “often misses solutions to engage and serve the existing, dedicated population of low-income cyclists of color; in fact, it instead ignores them or takes their lifestyles for granted.”