Bicycling for white people

This gorgeous video from Adventure Cycling showcases the U.S. Bicycle Route System, but one thing really stood out to me as an Asian American. See if you notice it too.



Russ Roca, a Filipino from Long Beach who produced this video with his long time partner Laura Crawford, is very aware of the lack of diversity in this video . “We’re trying our best!” he tells me. “We’re definitely trying to update the look of bicycling.”

Russ’s home city is is roughly one third Latino, one third White, 1/6 Asian, and 1/6 African American. Filipinos make up 6% of Long Beach’s working population, but the U.S. Census American Community Survey only counted nine Filipino bike commuters (plus or minus 14). That’s 0.4% of bike commuters in Long Beach.

(Click image to view original, readable version)

American Community Survey Long Beach Bike Commuters

These stats show also that Latinos are overrepresented among bike commuters. They make up 36% of the work force and 54% of the bike commuting traffic. Caucasians, who are 36% of the population, are almost at parity at 32% of bike commuters.

Bike touring is a middle class activity, for sure, and even among cyclists it’s a little bit of a fringe hobby. But if you created a video of cycling in your city, would it look like your city?


Diversity in bike events

What are ways you can enhance bicycling outreach to other audiences? Do your local bike to work days, bike clinics, bike rodeos, fun rides and charity rides speak anything other than English? Fast food chains, banks, automotive companies and other retailers and services all advertise in the language of their target markets. What about your bike advocacy group?


Your Commute Is Now Your Gym dot com

If you wonder why this even matters , Dr Adonia Lugo argues that bike advocates need to work harder at reach beyond their traditional core constituencies.

Why is it a bad thing to recognize that one’s circle is limited, and that it might take work to make connections beyond it? Why would it be bad to have a wider network from which to draw help with advocacy projects?

If you have a pretty limited circle from which to draw, you’re not necessarily going to craft a message or programming that’s appealing to a wider audience, because you have no idea what that wider audience cares about. And for a social movement, which would seem to want to get more people on board, that’s a strategy fail.

It is not a distraction from something more important to discuss race and class in the bike movement because Americans are hardly a homogeneous bunch. If you’re not interested in the different experiences of the people you’re targeting, why would they care about this bike thing you’re into?

For far too long people without much interest in experiences other than their own have dominated the room, assuming that we all agree that aspiring to Copenhagen is best, or that all women want to wear heels on their bikes. The continued championing of one narrow vision of bicycling has had at least one real effect: instead of us all seeing driving and suburbanization as a common enemy, embattled communities see bicycling and other sustainable practices as unwelcome symbols of power and privilege.

As part of their effort to diversify their programming and outreach, the League of American Bicyclists wants to hire an equity initiative manager. The California Bicycle Coalition is also actively working to broaden their message with a diverse set of speakers scheduled for the California Bike Summit in November.

10 Comments

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  • Jason
    September 27, 2013 - 8:56 am | Permalink

    We are one of the most diverse nations on the planet yet we are preoccupied with ever pushing the diversity agenda. If this video had been totally devoid of white people it would have never been mentioned. Why can’t we be satisfied with random samplings of our communities – sometimes heterogeneous and sometimes homogeneous – that are representative of reality?

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  • tiffany
    September 27, 2013 - 11:20 am | Permalink

    “Why can’t we be satisfied with random samplings of our communities – sometimes heterogeneous and sometimes homogeneous – that are representative of reality?”

    Because if we want cycling to be mainstream as a form of transportation, it helps to have allies. More kinds of people = more advocates. The hitch is that in order to garner support, you’ll need to explain why they should support your cause. What do and what does my neighborhood get out of this if I do the hard work of advocacy?

    Because homogeneity means that only certain groups’ needs get met. Recreational cyclists are prioritized over commuters, for example. Rich communities are prioritized over poorer ones. When bike lanes go along pretty routes rather than functional routes, only hobbyists use them. We basically lose the major advantages of a cycling infrastructure: healthier communities and less traffic.

    Does that answer your question?

  • Anonymous
    September 27, 2013 - 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m white, and I’m not sure I would have noticed the lack of diversity if you hadn’t pointed it out. On the other hand, if there had been only Asians or only blacks or only Hispanics, I think I would have assumed the video was produced by a group that represented these groups or was promoting cycling specifically in these communities. On my ride to work, the majority of cyclists I see are Hispanic men commuting, I assume, to work. These guys don’t get a lot of representation in cycling media.

  • September 28, 2013 - 9:06 am | Permalink

    Coming from a bike advocacy perspective, while important it is not enough to do outreach and advertising targeting a more diverse audience. Instead, an organization has to actively diversify its staff, project partners, community liaisons and decision makers proportionately to the people they are supposed to be representing. Not just in terms of race, either, but also with economic, social, and mobility aspects in mind, which in the end will give the organization a lot of great local knowledge, experience, and credibility. Bringing job opportunities into various communities is a quick way to get on people’s good side, as well.

    The video did represent a good amount of women and families, however, which is a step above the old norm, at least!

  • September 28, 2013 - 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Yes, exactly. Inclusion is required, otherwise we’re just patronizing do-gooders with the white man’s burden, knowing what’s best whether our target audience knows it or not.

  • September 28, 2013 - 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m not saying it’s wrong to be philanthropic or impossible to appreciate another person’s concerns via empathy. As a white male in my 30s I realize that demographically I am overrepresented in this country (even if I happen not to share the opinions of the demographic I belong to) so I try to spend more time listening than talking, in order to better inform my own frame of reference and expose any subconscious biases.

    However, it is more difficult for any homogenous group, racial or otherwise, to think outside their own realm of experience, so diversity gives a group a leg up on recognizing the entirety of a situation and therefore being more able to work effectively. Each participant’s experience is valuable, but in concert even more so.

  • October 8, 2013 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    Winona Bateman here, from Adventure Cycling, finally chiming in. Thanks for the thoughtful post and overall, insightful comments.

    The U.S. Bicycle Route System video is gorgeous, thanks to Russ and Laura’s excellent videography and storytelling chops. But we agree, in terms of the cyclists represented, the video is not adequately representative of our cycling community and country. For a true picture of the communities that the U.S. Bicycle Route System will intersect, impact, and inspire, the cyclists represented should be more varied and diverse on many fronts. In this case, we were mainly hampered by available footage, our timeline, and our budget: We didn’t have money to go out and shoot additional footage that wasn’t already available to the videographers. But, as a nonprofit, this is often the case and we can’t use it as a long-term excuse. The USBRS is for all cyclists and we will represent more of the cycling community in our next piece for the project. Again, thank you for your thoughtful post.

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