Wednesday, April 15, 2009

City of Lights

I've been working with a collaborator to develop a program for giving out bike lights to Latino immigrant cyclists in LA, since we see a heck of a lot of people riding around without lights or apparent familiarity with bike safety. We call it City of Lights, and through donations from Planet Bike and my school, UC Irvine, we've given away around 100 lights this year.
At first we started by having volunteers roam the city and hand out lights to people they passed on the street.
Handing out lights in passing was exhilarating, but we wanted to find a way to make more of a lasting impact on our program participants. We weren't fulfilling one of our main goals: establishing more connections between Latino cyclists and the bike activist community in LA. After a bit of research, we decided to partner with the CARECEN day labor center at the Home Depot near MacArthur Park. Now our program has visited there twice, attaching lights to bikes and chatting with the men who are waiting for work at the center. I can never forget that the men I'm joking with are there by virtue of the fact that they are not working; their presence at our table indicates that they will not be getting paid that day. It's made me think about the goals of our program, and to renew my interest in making City of Lights about more than bike lights. We want to empower some individuals to become advocates for Latino cyclists, offer trainings on bike safety and maintenance, and gain access to more expensive but vital accessories like locks and helmets.
I'm certainly familiar with the historic emphasis on labor as the best site to impact people's disempowerment within societal power structures, but I really believe that our work as bike activists can have a transformative effect as well. We are encouraging our program participants to reflect on their experiences as bicyclists. Not sure what will develop.