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MCM: Organizing Bike Communities in Los Angeles

Many people get involved in bike advocacy because they want to promote bicycling and increase safety, yet we all know that not everyone who rides has the time or inclination to become an advocate. Sometimes the people who don’t get involved actually have the most need for better streets in their neighborhoods.

How can we ensure that bike advocacy agendas are designed to meet those communities’ needs? Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM) in Los Angeles has been experimenting with this question since its early days as a bike light giveaway program housed at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition in 2008. Today, MCM is leading the nation in innovating ways to transform community-engaged bike advocacy from a good idea into action.

In a new video released today, MCM organizers detail their work on the promotores program in Boyle Heights, an historically Chicano and Latino neighborhood in East Los Angeles. The promotores model is grounded in the idea that neighborhood residents are the best experts on what their health needs are, and how their environments could be improved to better promote healthy activity. MCM is making this model work for bicycling.

You can learn more about their work here. In going from business to business and flyering at street events like CicLAvia, MCM uses community organizing methods to build public will for bicycling projects. Community organizing is a great way to get more bike experiences plugged into our advocacy work because it allows us to access perspectives from people who are not accustomed to being a part of public decisionmaking.

As part of Future Bike last September, the League co-hosted one of James Rojas’ placemaking workshops in Pittsburgh with Joanna Bernstein, a community planner who works as an organizer with Latin American immigrants. We’ve all been part of community meetings with disappointing turnout, and I wasn’t sure what to expect as we set up a dinner buffet and arranged materials on tables in a downtown Pittsburgh meeting room. The night blossomed into a remarkable success, with families from across the globe participating enthusiastically in building models of their childhood memories and explaining them to the group, often with Joanna’s translation help.

The only reason we had a full house was because Joanna had done so much work to build trust with the sometimes very traumatized people she supports, and they knew that when she invited them to the event, they would be safe and have fun. A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette focused on the migration story of a few of Joanna’s clients, and the article makes her role as a key ally clear.

Community organizing is already an important element of bike advocacy, though it can be easy to overlook as it takes shape through relationship building, outreach, and bringing more voices to the planning process. For more insight, I reached out to Chema Hernández Gil, a community organizer with San Francisco Bicycle Coalition who works with Spanish-speaking groups in the city. Chema’s take on bike advocacy and organizing is this: “A bike is simple to ride, cheap to buy, and easy to fix. In the most important ways, it represents transportation autonomy. Advocating for safer and more comfortable biking shouldn’t be any different. The role of professional biking advocates should be to empower people biking so the institutions making our streets have no choice but to listen to them.”

Organizing together, we can make streets healthier and safer for everyone. Mil gracias a MCM, Chema, Joanna, y a todas las personas quienes están trabajando para levantar más voces.


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