Demanding equity in bike share: challenges and learnings from our yearlong research and outreach work
Written by Río Contreras, Maria Sipin and Anisha Hingorani
As bike share systems are introduced in cities and existing systems continue to mature, there is a heightened awareness about the threats that the presence of bike share poses to low-income communities of color. The Bay Area is a prime example. With this valid resistance and growing concerns, there also exists a cautious optimism that bike share, if implemented equitably, can be a valuable public resource for low-income communities and enhance the environment for biking for everyone overall.
What will it take for bike share in Los Angeles to better serve users who aren’t early adopters or affluent white people as seen in bike share data in other cities? Can Metro, the implementers of bike share, apply lessons learned from our outreach work to inform the future of bike share in downtown and the roll out of more bike share throughout the region?
MCM was tasked to get better insights about potential bike share users in downtown Los Angeles by leading outreach efforts in downtown Los Angeles to conduct workshops and to provide information to local workers, transit users, and people who predominantly speak Spanish about bike share. This community-engaged research project was funded by the Better Bike Share Partnership to learn about LA bike share during its infancy, initiated at the time of its launch in July 2016.
After a year of conducting surveys and having conversations, we generated a report with our partners about the community’s responses as well as a detailed account about the barriers we faced during this process–both in the streets and behind closed doors. This video discusses the challenges and limitations of a top-down approach to community engagement while also covering the strengths of the partnerships that emerged from this project. We highlight critical practices for building trust among partners who operate at different levels of power and financial resources.
This analysis comes from the perspective of a grassroots organization working with city and transit agencies with the goal of sharing practices and processes that could be beneficial to bike share implementers or their partners who are striving to create an equitable system.
Reflections on our bike share partnership over the last year
Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), an organization led by people of color and young professionals, entered a partnership with Metro, LADOT, and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition in 2016 to study, engage and inform low-income communities and communities of color about Metro’s new bike share system. In Los Angeles, the countywide transit agency is also the operator of its newest bike share system, which began in downtown. This research and outreach project was made possible with funding from the Better Bike Share Partnership.
MCM played an essential role in hiring project staff, creating goals, planning activities, identifying accessibility and institutional barriers, and defining what equitable bike share can look like in Los Angeles. Relative to our partners, our organization was younger with limited institutional power and operating budget, yet we were determined to inform the process and demonstrate how equity involves equal partnerships with peer organizations and community members.
MCM’s bike share project team was led by Río Contreras with administrative support by Anisha Hingorani. Our team of bilingual Angelenos of color who represent a broad gender spectrum from Trans* people, women and men took on roles as ambassadors, outreach and education specialists, and evaluators. Our engagement strategies included creating culturally-relevant materials in English and Spanish, designing surveys and launching a focus group to better understand the concerns of underserved communities we had most experience with–undocumented immigrants, low-income monolingual Spanish individuals, and those with limited access to banks, credit cards, or smartphones–in a geographic area with unique challenges. Our Board Co-Chair Maria Sipin served as a key adviser and thought partner to help our team navigate through the institutional processes and politics and maintain MCM’s position and core values.
The power of storytelling to highlight multiple facets of equity in bike share
In challenging institutional inequities, we found it most effective to use video narratives and storytelling to bring the concerns of the community to light in a compelling way. We are happy to say that we received supplemental funding from BBSP to continue to produce and release videos of community members discussing the various dimensions of equitable access to bike share. We would like to acknowledge Blue Veil films for working with us to tell the most authentic stories and joining us for the ride.
Please stay tuned and consider donating to MCM or attending our Anniversary party so that we can continue serving our communities and hiring talented and driven individuals from Los Angeles neighborhoods to transform our cities together.