Demanding equity in bike share

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.

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Interview Project Findings from Local Influencers and People who Bike

Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM) conducted ten interviews for the League of American Bicyclists in June with people in the community who regularly ride a bicycle (who will be referred to as cyclists only for brevity) and with people who are regarded as influencers and local leaders in policymaking and community organizing. This project is part of the League’s Equity Initiative.

MCM identified cyclists: people we have interacted with our programs in the past, were within reach in the communities we work in, and/or belong to groups who have been detached from mainstream and existing bicycle advocacy efforts. On the other hand, the influencers were sought out because they are key leaders whose work on many levels impacts the community members we serve and the cyclists we interviewed.

Findings from Cyclists:

Cyclists interviewed represent low-income, people of color, including people who identify as young parents, queer, and at-risk for gang violence at some point in their life. They all ride regularly and would be considered as avid bike commuters. They were asked about bike laws and have general knowledge and awareness of bike maintenance and light requirements. They shared their joys related to biking as well as their concerns, which centered on their disdain for distracted driving, disrespect from drivers, and uncertainty about what to do if they were hit.

One of the most memorable quotes was from Big C about drivers, “They see us but then they don’t see us.”

The cyclists were also asked about their sources of medical care, which ranged from preferring home remedies to having a primary care doctor available to them. While biking has risks for them, they talked about its value for their independence, well-being, connected to their environment, and economic benefits.

Good air quality and the presence of green space, bike infrastructure, affordable and quality housing, and better jobs and better wages are tied to community health.

Another major issue is law enforcement, criminalizing low-income people of color and those who are vulnerable on a bicycle or riding public transportation.


Findings from Influencers:

Influencers working in different sectors had public health related priorities in common. According to the influencers, there is a need for collaboration, coordinated efforts, and non-traditional partnerships to create progress.

In Los Angeles, our low-income communities are burdened by chronic diseases and increased risk for car-related injuries and deaths. It’s critical to take on structural changes; address social determinants and recognize the role of the built environment and policies affecting community health rather than solely focusing on individual choices or genetics. Good air quality and the presence of green space, bike infrastructure, affordable and quality housing, and better jobs and fair wages are tied to community health. A commitment to Vision Zero and action to move toward zero deaths is a step in the right direction. There is a need for political will and elected officials to champion these causes, to make the right decisions in favor of health for all and for the lives of those who walk and bike. While the pending bike share system is causing a buzz around the thriving Downtown area, there are major concerns about other bike-related issues left untouched and lacking attention from transportation agencies.

Equity remains an issue. Better serving those who already bike as a necessity is just as important as getting more people to bike. Another major issue is law enforcement, criminalizing low-income people of color and those who are vulnerable on a bicycle or riding public transportation. The prison industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline are major concerns. Providing a quality education and engaging youth to shape and lead their communities is essential to creating a better present and future Los Angeles.

The findings, along with a power map, were presented on July 16, 2015, in Minneapolis at the National Brotherhood of Cyclists Conference at the session: “The League of American Bicyclists Equity Advisory Council Project: Equity in Motion.”

This research project was sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists as part of their Equity initiative. Members of the Equity Advisory Council and invited consultants from six cities across the United States will present research from interviews and power mapping projects to uncover new perspectives on the power dynamics involved in bicycle advocacy.

Tweets from the event:

More tweets: #NBCMPLS

Los Angeles Issues and Highlights

  • Criminalization of low-income people riding bicycles and using public transportation
  • Prison industrial complex
  • Gentrification
  • Police brutality
  • Inequities related to bike programs and infrastructure (bike share, bike lanes, etc.)
  • Legal issues and resources for people
  • Physical safety when biking
  • Vision Zero
  • Medical coverage and costs
  • Air quality
  • Sustainability
  • Placemaking
  • Strength of communities
  • Access to bicycles
  • Access to bicycle infrastructure
  • Competition between active transportation and car use
  • Stigma of riding bicycles
  • Narrow and limited participation in advocacy
  • Need for broadening participation through groups outside of traditional active transportation advocates
  • Perception of bicycle as an interest of only a minority of the population
  • Land use and affordable housing
  • Bikesharing
  • Engineering, and “engineering as 24-hour enforcement”
  • Absence of data/research
  • Identifying high-need cities/neighborhoods to receive funds to improve health
  • Elimination of or lack of green spaces
  • Cities with high-need and low-income residents negatively affected by corruption
  • Housing costs, displacement, and long commutes
  • More coordinated efforts between county health and cities
  • Empowerment as additional League “E”
  • Wage theft
  • Mental health
  • Image of typical cyclist and more diverse image of actual cyclist
  • Bike theft
  • Disregard for 3-foot Law
  • Bicycles for independence and experiencing surroundings
  • Distracted driving
  • Holistic wellness methods versus commercialized health care
  • Riding bicycles to deter people from gang involvement
  • Bike clubs as a positive activity
  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Acquiring bicycles as a gift from friends, supporters, family members
  • Infrequent bus schedules as an inconvenience
  • Sidewalk riding due to terrifying street conditions
  • Mobility and safety concerns for queer and trans people higher when walking than when biking
  • Street harassment and assault
  • Theft
  • Need for driver education
  • Driving under the influence
  • Institutional racism
  • Classicism
  • Autonomy and superhero feeling when biking
  • Good feelings associated with riding a bicycle and the physical benefits of biking
  • Bicycle is economical
  • Respiratory concerns related to biking due to pollutants and vehicle emissions
  • Medicaid program (Medi-Cal) coverage for low-income residents
  • LGBT health center for primary care
  • Uncertainty about medical care if hit by a car
  • Respect on the street among all road users
  • Stress on the road
  • Car sharing and carpooling as alternatives when needed
  • Literacy
  • Violence in communities
  • Pot holes
  • Challenges of riding public transportation with young children
  • Social element of riding bicycles with others