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Women’s Forum Recap: Adonia Lugo on Bike Justice and “Human Infrastructure”

As a bicycle commuter, Adonia Lugo noticed a clear shift in cycling when she moved from Portland to Los Angeles in 2007. For the innovative scholar, that distinction led to a whole new approach to bicycle advocacy.

“I was struck by the impact the transportation culture had on my experience of biking,” she says. “And I also started noticing how race and class distinctions played out in transportation and how, even though I was biking in a built environment really similar to Portland, other road users didn’t respect my way of getting around.”


In the “Community-Based Bicycle Advocacy” session at the National Women’s Bicycling Forum, Lugo explained some of her research into L.A.’s transportation culture — and her work co-founding CicLAvia and City of Lights (now Multicultural Communities for Mobility), both campaigns that have broken new ground and succeeded at empowering communities that are underrepresented in traditional bicycle advocacy.

For Lugo it all led to a new and critical frame to engaging more people in biking: “human infrastructure.”

What does the phrase mean? Well, human infrastructure is the existing social networks, community groups, and shared ideas about transportation that affect how people think of streets — and what is possible in them. And underlining this concept is a critical and optimistic question: “If we respect present differences, can we create future consensus?”

Too often in bicycle advocacy, we equate opposition with ignorance or misunderstanding. We jump to the conclusion that people opposed to bike lanes just don’t get it, or don’t have all the compelling facts that clearly show the merit of our positions. Lugo has been a strong voice — and has set a clear example — for shifting that thinking and, instead, actively working with community leaders to understand the cultural and community dynamics that shape perceptions of bicycling and transportation.

That’s the basis of human infrastructure. As Lugo showed at the Women’s Forum, the concept is based on two important pillars:

  • Research: Recognizing the multiple cultural meanings of transportation
  • Community-based advocacy: Starting from a respectful understanding of community concerns

One way she’s putting that concept to work is with the Seattle Bike Justice Project — an effort to aimed at “questioning the idea that bicycling is a luxury for a privileged group, or a burden for a marginalized group.” Over the course of several months, Lugo interviewed nine leaders from communities of color — folks outside bicycle advocacy circles — to better understand their ideas about biking and public spaces.

She’s also spearheaded the creation of Bicicultures, a network of scholars who study bicycling as a social and cultural phenomenon, aiming to shed light on the many bicycling cultures taking place alongside each other in our cities and towns. (Learn more and register for the group’s first event: Bicicultures Roadshow on April 16-17 in Davis, Calif.)

So how do you start these conversation and build this type of human infrastructure in your community? The panelists for the Community-Based Bicycle Advocacy session put together some key questions you can consider in your work.

Read more about the “Community-Based Bicycle Advocacy” session:

And stay tuned for more ideas, recaps and resources in coming days…

(Photo of Lugo by Brian Palmer)

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