Home > Culture, Los Angeles, Policy > Cycling is for everyone, but are we really that different?

Cycling is for everyone, but are we really that different?

Yesterday, L.A. StreetsBlog ran a piece by Adrian Leung and Allison Mannos about the “missing story” of immigrant cycling in Los Angeles. If I understand the article accurately, it leveled three major criticisms at current cycling advocacy efforts:

► They have ignored the influence of recent “immigrants of color,” for whom riding is a “cultural norm of inexpensive transportation that provides means for survival.”

► They have discounted the “numerous lessons” found in South American and Asian regions, particularly with respect to infrastructure standards and best practices, for which they instead largely look to northern European countries.

► They have failed to focus on poor, non-white communities — who cycle in larger numbers — and instead made “misplaced” efforts to encourage “affluent” drivers “to commute by bicycle.”

Cycling among all income levels and skin colors is desirable, and input from the constituents of all cycling communities is valuable. However, it’s not clear to me that any of these criticisms make sense overall, either absolutely or as guidance to shaping future advocacy. (Actually, I couldn’t locate anything in the article that would show up a specific difference in the concerns between poor and rich cyclists. I’m hoping someone could point a few out.) As I see it now, poor and rich, immigrants and natives, and persons of all hues ride the streets arm-in-arm, and their viewpoints are all shaped by the same external factors — cars, street conditions, and laws.

For that matter, cycling has long been a great leveler. H.G. Wells said cycling had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world” in the nineteenth century. Its relatively low entry cost also helped break down class barriers, and gave access to first rate transportation options to people who couldn’t otherwise afford a horse. Similar undercurrents continue into modern times, with the poor and rich alike participating on equal terms. I’ve ridden in many weekend outings of local bicycle clubs in which the only distinction that mattered was performance.

In particular, I would make these observations:

■ Cycling may help the poor, but consciously associating cycling with poverty is a sure means of ruining it for other income levels. This is a lesson that any marketer – or Tom Sawyer – could give you. If you want to sell something, make it look fun and inviting, and get attractive and successful people to promote it. If you want to kill cycling, promote it as an activity that the poor are stuck doing because they can’t afford a car.

■ In my experience, infrastructural best practices have no cultural boundary, as they are rooted in basic aspects of human-ness: concerns for safety, reaction times, etc. I’ve been to some four dozen countries, each of which have similar (auto) road provisions, despite the color, culture, or creed of the populace. The non-European countries with cycling infrastructure (that I’ve seen) construct facilities remarkably similar to those I’ve seen in Europe.

Seoul Bicycle Lane

Taipei Bicycle Path

Too, an increasing number of planners worldwide have looked to the policies of the Netherlands and Denmark for inspiration. These countries have a proven recipe for success. Even Guangzhou, a city with historically high cycling rates, has hired a Danish consultant to work on at least one bicycle project.

■ Cycling advocacy is targeted at the “affluent” (middle class?) precisely because they don’t ride. The poor do. If we want cycling among all income levels, we need to make sure that it’s socially acceptable at every social stratum. If we focus our efforts largely on the poor, we will lose them when they become the middle class. That’s not a recipe for long-term success.

Categories: Culture, Los Angeles, Policy
  1. Jessica
    June 6, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    for me – focusing investments on the areas of greatest need is critically important. equity in our transportation investments is sorely lacking.

    many research reports show us that low-income communities continue to suffer disproportionately higher rates of obesity and pedestrian/bike injuries and fatalities than more affluent counterparts.

    in addition – low income communities often lack the capacity/city staffers to produce competitive grant applications and have less access to social capital/decision makers – thereby results in reduced investments – compared to wealthy counterparts.

    • June 7, 2011 at 11:51 AM

      You make good points, but I’m not sure that any social stratum has been able to leverage its position to provide extensive, quality cycling infrastructure. Instead, we’ve mostly been fighting over the crumbs left over from driving infrastructure.

      I’ve seen some people point to the river and beach paths as evidence of moneyed influence, but I’d argue that those locations were chosen because they didn’t get in the way of drivers. (In any case, the river paths in particular don’t go through rich neighborhoods.) Beverly Hills, where I live, has no bicycle lanes or paths at all, and has only recently begun installing racks in a few locations. Santa Monica is better, but some of its paths aren’t fit for adult riders, much less children.

  2. Jessica
    June 8, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    I agree – the bigger problem is that we’re spending less than 0.5% of all regional transportation dollars on walking and bicycling projects (SCAG 2008 RTP) – tho active transportation represents a 12% mode split and 25% of all roadway injuries and fatalities in So Cal.

    The funding – and lack thereof for making our communities safer and more enjoyable for all of us to walk/bike in – to me is at the core of this problem – and the results (collision rates, and people unable to live in communities were there can walk to school, store, park without being injured or killed) is heartbreaking and should be unacceptable to all of us.

  1. June 2, 2011 at 7:49 PM
  2. June 4, 2011 at 1:06 AM
  3. June 6, 2011 at 4:19 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: