I was enjoying my free pancakes at a Bike To Work Day event in Colorado about a decade ago when I noticed Latinos on bikes streaming past on the way to their jobs.
In a city where 20% of residents claim a Hispanic or Latino background, with a substantial portion of them speaking little English, all of our Bike To Work Day signs were in English. I understand many of these laborers came to the United States seeking opportunity, and many of them aspire to car ownership. It struck me then that cycling events like Bike To Work Day primarily target the affluent and white, and that cycling advocates should reach out to other groups in both their promotion efforts and to get new blood and new ideas in our work.
Since then, I’ve learned that Los Angeles advocates have done a particularly good job in including immigrant groups in their advocacy efforts. Closer to where I live now, San Jose Bike Party has done a marvelous job including an amazingly diverse group on their rides and making cycling ‘normal’ for a segment of the population that you’ll never see at a Silicon Valley “Energizer Station” on Bike to Work Day, with amazing creative energy invested into this uniquely San Jose Bike Culture.
Back to Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Bike Coalition’s Urban Program Director Allison Mannos and a graduate student in urban planning Adrian Leung writes how we in America are missing part of this immigrant story with our fascination with cycle facilities in Northern Europe and Portland, Oregon.
The bicycle movement in Los Angeles is not rooted in mimcry of Europe or the “whitest city in America” [i.e. Portland]. It owes much of its progress to the participation of immigrants of color who can share uncountable stories of everyday bicycling in their countries of origin.
Although not all Los Angeles’ bicyclists are immigrants from these places, work within the bicycling community reveals that the success of Los Angeles bicycling is based on the established behavioral patterns of these people. 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.
While our recent ‘best practices’ guides are inspired by what we see in Europe, Mannos and Leung highlight that Chinese bicycle use dwarfs even the best of Northern Europe, and argue that maybe we should pay a little more attention to what’s happening in rest of the world outside of the European low countries and Scandinavia.
America is becoming increasingly brown, and those promoting bicycle use should work to include these diverse cultures with our work lest we become an irrelevant cast off of stuff white people like.
Read the complete article at Streetsblog LA: Bicycling is for Everyone: The Connections Between Cycling in Developing Countries and Low-Income Cyclists of Color in the U.S..