When Los Angeles organizations joined together to make bike share more equitable, they didn’t know that they would end up focusing just as much on their own dynamics as on work in the community.
The partnership consisted of Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), LA Metro, Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS). Together, they spent over a year working on community engagement and planning activities around LA’s bike share system. When the groups stood back to evaluate their efforts, they found both successes and big challenges.
Their reflections are documented in a video that gives voice to each of the organizations:
Working to see the perspective of others
From the perspective of the community-facing groups, the partnership was an opportunity to collaborate in a way that deviated from standard interactions:
“I think what got us excited was just hearing the excitement from the team at Metro. They really saw this collaboration, as a way to think about equity differently,” said Tamika Butler, former Executive Director at LACBC.
The bike share operator got to understand the on-the-ground issues that LA residents deal with on a regular basis — concerns that community-based groups take very seriously in their work:
“A partnership like this really gave me a unique look into some of the equity challenges that are faced in Los Angeles,” said Peter Hoban, Chief Operating Officer of BTS. “That equity discussion is evolving all the time.”
“When we actually look through an equity lens, it means that we have to prioritize those at the margins, and make sure that they also have access,” said Rio Contreras, Active Transportation Project Coordinator with MCM.
The partnership sought to meaningfully engage residents through a variety of activities, including surveys, classes, and focus groups.
Surfacing internal inequities
It wasn’t long before challenges surfaced within the group, based on differing internal processes and institutional power. The tensions arose in retreat sessions between the partners:
“We went straight to work with ‘How do we define equity in bike share?’” said Butler. “And what we didn’t realize was we hadn’t figured out how to define equity for ourselves.”
“Metro has a pretty rigorous process in terms of being able to get reviews and approvals, whether it was the survey that we used or a lot of our marketing and outreach materials,” said Jenny Cristales-Cevallos, a transportation planning manager with LA Metro.
After meeting, LA Metro worked to attend more of the scheduled community events, so as to participate more fully with on-the-ground community needs and concerns.
“If Metro changes, and they really see what equity is, and they really understand it at that deep heart level, then it’s very likely our communities will benefit from it,” said Contreras.
Making bike share for everybody
Overall, several useful findings came out of the collaboration. Partners learned, for instance how critical word-of-mouth is to growing a diverse bike share member base:
“A lot of the information that they get in terms of transit or even bike share in general is those one-on-one conversations,” said Cristales-Cevallos.
Partners also learned that there is still a prevalent perception among many low-income residents in Los Angeles that bike share is not for them. Instead, many see the bikes as meant for tourists and the affluent.
The question remains how the bikes can become something that all residents see as their own community resource.