Los Angeles isn’t white enough to be bike friendly

Is that what Michelle Mowery, LA DOT’s Bicycle Coordinator, is suggesting? At last Wednesday’s City Council Transportation Committee meeting Councilman Bill Rosendahl asked her why, even though Los Angeles hired the exact same consulting group that Portland did, the results we got in Los Angeles were considerably worse. Her answer (Emphasis is mine, and was picked up initially by the folks at West Side Bike Side):

“With all due respect the City of Portland is 450,000 people. It’s a homogeneous community that is very white, and very progressive with respect to transportation. They have a trolley system that works very well, as well as their transit overall. We are a very diverse, disjointed city of 4 million people. They are 30 years ahead of us in the development of their, well, they’re not quite 30, they’re more like 20 years ahead of us in the development of their bikeway. So we’re a step behind Portland in what we’re trying to do. Granted, several of us would like to see a lot of changes in the city happen very quickly, but again we have a very diverse city with a lot of needs.”

Holy crap, will someone please fire her already so we can get someone who actually cares and can work on making a difference in that position rather than someone who just spouts off a bunch of useless shit all the time?

37 thoughts on “Los Angeles isn’t white enough to be bike friendly”

  1. Garrett – yes she is. That’s the point – she’s basically implying that white people ride bikes and there aren’t enough of them in LA for this to work. Anyone who spends anytime on a bicycle in LA knows that is bullshit and that the diverse ethnic make up of LA is represented very well in the bicycle riding community. She’s making excuses for being incompetent.

  2. “she’s basically implying that white people ride bikes and there aren’t enough of them in LA for this to work. ”

    Really? I thought she was implying that brown people are too busy trying to stop each other from murdering people and selling drugs to care about fucking bike lanes. in their neighborhoods. Nevermind the fact that there are 8 times more people living here…

  3. Told my non-white wife about this last night, and it just about ruined our”Date Night.” Pissed her off, but being familiar with Michelle Mowery, I wasn’t that surprised about her lame-ass statement. A very typical remark to shift away the blame for such pathetic bike planning by the city of Los Angeles.

    I guess if I want to see functional bike planning, I will have to move to that homogeneous white community known as New York.

  4. Since when are facts ‘useless shit’? She’s not incompetent, she’s articulate and accurate; more minorities ride bikes than whites here in LA because this city is only about 25 -30% white, and the statement that Portland is ‘very progressive with respect to transportation’ means that they actually have thought forward about making their city more bike friendly, and more transportation friendly in general. We cannot make any progress in LA because we have to slow down and wait for the ‘diverse city with a lot of needs’ to keep up. For example, I see massive groups of loud, obnoxious bikers clogging up the local Ralphs parking lot every month @ midnight, blasting mariachi music and generally pissing off the locals, but I can guarantee that doesn’t happen in Portland. Why? You figure it out…

  5. The statement is incorrect (not to mention racist) because it states that only white people are interested in progressive solutions to transportation. Why this would be so escapes me – aren’t we all trying to get somewhere in this city?

    For what it’s worth, I was in the room when the statement was made and there was almost audible gasp of disbelief from the audience. But the real tragedy here to me is that this is the kind of reasoning that is being used to justify the lack of community outreach from those that are responsible for the weak and stale document that passes for the latest Los Angeles Bike Plan.

  6. Brian, if you asked me what color grass is and I used a bunch of facts to explain to you why the sky looks blue, would you say that was useless shit or applaud me for being accurate. Mowery didn’t answer the question she was asked, and instead pointed to a fact citing it as a problem when many other cities around the world have similar “facts” yet strangely lack similar “problems”

    And your “guarantee” of what does and doesn’t happen in Portland shows that you don’t have any idea what you are talking about. I’m sure the hundreds of people who partake in Portland Critical Mass, Portland Naked Ride, Portland Night Ride, etc etc etc would be very surprised to at your ASSertations that there aren’t groups of loud, obnoxious bikers clogging up parking lots in their city as well.

  7. Mowery is not a fighter. She just an excuse maker. She should be replaced with a bulldog bike advocate who will work hard for the bike community. Mowery and the LADOT just BS people all dAy at these meetings.

    Paint on the streets or get out of the way Mowery!

  8. I’m a bicyclist, and the SWPL entry on bicycles cracks me up every time. “If you know a person who rides to work, you should take them aside and say “Hey, thanks. Sincerely, The Earth.” Then give a thumbs up. That white person will ride home on a cloud.” I never get tired of that paragraph.

    As for Mowery, the most generous interpretation I can see is that she was talking about the difficulties in outreach to different communities and crossing language barriers. That doesn’t excuse simply not trying, though, and it simply doesn’t have anything to do with Bill Rosendahl’s question as to why Alta Consulting hasn’t been used in outreach.

  9. A bit ignorant on many levels, unless of course there’s evidence that non-whites are inherently less bike friendly or less progressive about public transportation.
    But its an easy copout, as Los Angeles isn’t getting whiter, so she can spew prejudiced excuses til she finally moves on.

  10. The questions was, why did the SAME consultants not get the SAME results in LA that they got in Portland? Mowery’s response,although it may not have been worded diplomatically, was that, although the Consultants may have been the same, they were given very different canvases to paint on (preparation, size, texture) so could not be expected to get the same painting, or to create it with the same speed.

    Geography, population density and diversity DO make LA a much more challenging prospect to come up with a satisfactory plan that meets everyone’s needs, especially if you’re trying to do it with the same resources as Portland, in the same time frame.

    It’s like saying, wow, those folks sure made a great apple pie in Portland. Let’s give them some oranges and avocados and see what kind of apple pie they can come up with in LA. I’m not saying they’re doing the best job, just that what she said was a perfectly legitimate (if less than politically correct) answer to the question.

  11. Lachel, if that is the case, why didn’t Mowery just state it? The real stunner here is that the questions were given to the DOT ahead of time so they could prepare their answers and this is what they came up with.

    While I agree it’s a challenge, Los Angeles has a diverse group of bike users and yet seemingly no effort was made to gather opinion from the very people that will be most affected by this bike plan.

  12. Brian please don’t try to sound all smart and then come out with some stupid, sheltered child theories of yours. First off, the main reason more hispanics ride bikes is because either, they don’t have a license to drive a car or they don’t have the money to afford one. Secondly, the main reason that “white” people don’t ride bikes in L.A as much is because were not the small city of 450,000. We are a city of millions and competition for the all mighty dollar has us all trying to move faster than the next guy, and if you already have the dollar than you wouldn’t get caught dead riding a bike thats so not “Hollywood”. All the people that I’ve met on the bike lanes or on the hiking trails have mostly all been out of state transplants trying to get away from the city for a minute. Lastly, the bikers that you’re complaining about, riding at midnight, blasting mariachi music, pissing people off, believe it or not are predominantly white. If you don’t believe me look them up, they’re called The Midnight Riders. They were probably blasting the mariachi music because they were all plastered drunk, thats what they do, get drunk and ride around doing all kinds of annoying crap. You and the Demographic specialist can say what you like, but that there is the truth. Riding bikes is just not fabulous enough for most Angelinos.

  13. What exactly did she say that was so wrong? She used the words “white” and “progressive” to describe Portland? Well, isn’t it? And the fact that LA’s 10 times bigger? Uh, yeah, it is. And “we have a very diverse city with a lot of needs” is just a politically correct way of saying we have a much more fucked up city with bigger problems than Portland. So quick to pull the racist card, and you’re reading way too much into a pretty innocuous statement. She didn’t say that all bike riders were white – Christ, unbunch your panties already!

  14. “If you don’t believe me look them up, they’re called The Midnight Riders.”

    Your unintentional comedy of the day.

  15. I’m a gringo and ride my bicycle to work in downtown everyday but as far as I can see from first hand experience the majority of people commuting on bicycles to work are by and large Latino. I don’t understand Mowery’s statement at all; it’s as if she has never stepped outside to see what exactly is happening in the areas where people are actually cycling. I mean really what is she talking about? It sounds like she’s saying that if bike lanes were put in places where they’re needed no one would use them because they’d rather ride on the sidewalk. She clearly has the wrong attitude and should be replaced ASAP.

  16. Why would LA hire the same consultants they hired in Portland? LA is a very different city than Portland. A plan or idea that would work in Portland isn’t going to work here. We can have a bike plan, but it can’t be the same as Portland. The consultants used should have been people that somewhat matched the demographic or at least understood the demographic of the average bike rider in LA. They could have thrown millions of dollars at then and I still think if they were hiring people who were experts on Portland it still would have turned out badly.

    And I think she’s right the racial diversity one of the many problem why our transportation is very suck in LA. Why is public transit so horrible here there are lots of reasons, but a big reason is because of who rides it and how they are viewed by the powers that be.

    I wasn’t at the meeting, but from what I’ve read here it doesn’t seem to me like she was saying that there aren’t enough white people, but an attitude in LA. The cyclists in LA are in large part people of color and in America that makes a difference. In general the powers that be if they view the demographic that uses the services at less economically advantaged or viable they tend to do less about making a service work, because people view it as “charity work” and not “community building.”

    Lets look at LA schools I think the reasons that people stopped spending money on schools and stopped voting to support public schools is because the people who are the mainstream dictators of culture: journalists, business people, people in PR stopped sending their children to the public schools. I think she was saying she honestly doesn’t see how people in LA are going to vote on a measure that is mainly not going to benefit the elite of Los Angeles and from what I’ve seen of LA is she really that off base?

    Was she in charge of hiring Alta, whose idea was that?

    Either way I’m not getting that Michelle was saying anything racist I think she was truly saying how she feels the people of LA who have power are possibly have issues with the people of Los Angeles, the real people not the people who get covered in glossy magazines.

    I don’t know this is all very weird. I want to know are you Sean calling Michelle a racist, because I’m not sure what is being implied here by you.


  17. I’m saying that implying that a plan involving something as cross cultural as riding bikes would work in one city because the residents are white, but not in another city with a more diverse racial make up sounds a bit racist. There are endless differences she could have cited between LA and Portland, the color of the skin of the people who live in each seems like the least applicable.

    Digging deeper into the matter it’s clear that in Portland there was a great deal of community outreach done to work with the people who would be effected by the plan, while in LA no efforts were made to reach out to the bicycle community which confirms ongoing suspicion that Mowery et al don’t actually care about the communities they are supposed to represent and instead and just political mouthpieces who spend all day deflecting blame.

  18. I listened to the audio of the meeting up to and quite a bit after the comments in question by Michelle:

    I think she was trying to help Alta consulting. They didn’t do research in the communities in LA that ride bicycles because they couldn’t. They didn’t know what to do with a community that didn’t look like their consultants. They did outreach in Portland, had bike rides and here they did nothing and I don’t know how much money you need to do a bike ride in a community, maybe you need alot, but…well I think the problem is the places people ride here, the majority of people ride here aren’t “destinations” to the people in power, they are places to go through.

    I don’t think this should be put on Michelle this should be put on the lack of expertise Alta has in accessing communities of color.


    Go to around the 40 minute part, then you can listen for yourself what happened. She was pointing out the obvious as to why Alta didn’t do what they did in Portland. Maybe combining a group that connect to communities of color with a planning group that just deals with the logistics might have been a good idea.

    And I see lots of black people riding bikes too on the Blue Line around South LA and around downtown in the skidrow area. I don’t think there is any race of people who don’t ride bicycles, but the people making and creating this bike plan all seem to be in general one race and in general one gender.

    Even if Alta had the money I still don’t think they would have done the proper outreach, I think people in LA are scared to address the race issue. I applaud Michelle for just putting it out there and not sugar coating it.

    I still remember the bike summit held at LA Trade Tech college, a college that many students go to via public transit and bicycles and when I asked the many Latino and African-American students about this big bike summit, not one person knew about it. No one even bothered to stand on the Blue Line stop outside the school and pass out flyers and no this isn’t nearly the same as Alta and bike summit was totally volunteer, but there is something there, something that should be addressed.


  19. In regards to the outreach was Mowery supposed to do it or was Alta supposed to do it? Was it supposed to be a combination of both?

    And bicycling is cross cultural, but I don’t think the reasons that people bike and why they have to and where they go are all the same. I want to believe the race of the people riding the bicycles don’t matter, but I think it does. Not because your skin color or shape of your eyes makes you ride differently, but I think you get interacted with differently depending on who you are.

    And I think the two big differences of Portland is size and the diversity (or lack of it on the Portland side.) The skin color thing is a big deal to people Sean though it may not be to you. I’ve heard people say they were moving to Portland because of its lack of diversity and they were sick of the diversity in LA, though maybe my friends are jerks. I still go to parties in LA that are very racially segregated, it’s weird.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is there were some definite missteps in outreach which may have been attributed to many things, number of people, socio-economic class, gender and race. Now am I saying that these can’t be overcome, no not even. I’m saying we need to at least address the issue to fix the issue. LA is big, LA is diverse, so obviously we are going to need to add some kind of component that maybe Portland doesn’t have, a sort of accommodation in regards to how to go about making a bike friendly city. I don’t know why we are using Portland as a model. LA is better than Portland, sorry. We have Hollywood. Why can’t we create something better than what Portland has? I thought this was the creative capital?

    I ride my bike (badly) three times a week. I take public transit and I go through the more economically disadvantaged parts of the cities. I never ever see any kind of cycling information. I actually wanted to sit in front of the Compton Station and hand out brochures to the cyclists (this was way back when the bike plan idea first was getting planned,) but then I didn’t have any and I knew I would be by myself, but maybe people who have a little more drive or something. I don’t know. The Blue Line around Compton and South LA is filled with kids and their bicycles.

    There is some kind of disconnect in LA. Remember that huge 2007 march that took place in downtown LA. It was all over the Spanish media (even media that the LA Times owned) and yet no one who was English speaking only knew about it, not even the cops and that march was huge. And it wasn’t a secret march it was open, but no one who didn’t speak or read Spanish knew about it. Something is very wrong here. There is a break down in communication here and the only way it’s going to get fixed is if we at least admit it’s there.


  20. Mowery is incorrect. We didn’t have a more inclusive public hearings process because in the scope of work she wrote for Alta Planning she didn’t want them to do the necessary outreach.

    The city has spent over $500,000 on this plan. Alta Planning’s Matt Benjamin is the foremost expert in the world on soliciting input from minority cyclists (he did the MTA’s Enhanced Public Outreach Program in 2002-2004).

    Mowery’s point about Portland would make sense if we didn’t put the money forward to have a citywide outreach – we did put forward $450,000. She would have a point if nobody had the skills to do such an outreach – she hired Matt Benjamin.

    It was Mowery’s scope of work and administration of this plan, not LA’s diversity, that sunk it’s quality.

  21. Let’s face it. Race has nothing to do with it. The hispanics have been riding forever but I never see them riding in the street because it’s dangerous. Maybe they have it right?

    Asshole drivers come in all shapes, color, and sizes. People in LA feel that it is their right to drive. We need critical mass to become real. We need to sit down in the right lane of some these 3 lane highways [olympic, supposedley a class 3 bike way] and stop cars from using it as a passing lane. I’m pretty sure on the DMV tests that you are not suppose to pass on the right?

    Time for a revolution? That’s how things get done.

  22. For what its worth, the city i live in (Washington DC) is majority black, with about 1/3 latino population, and we’re nipping on Portland and SF’s heels when it comes to bike ridership. Her comment is utter BS and shows a lot of ignorance on her part. Some of you are giving her way too much credit.

  23. I was talking about this to my wife tonight and she pointed out that if being white was a requirement to achieving great bike infrastructure shouldn’t Beverly Hills really have the best of all?

    Sadly all bike lanes end at BH.

  24. @Paisa: “competition for the all mighty dollar has us all trying to move faster than the next guy … Riding bikes is just not fabulous enough for most Angelinos …”

    Cars aren’t always faster during rush hour than bikes and transit. It’s sunny and dry 9 out of 10 days in L.A., I’d say the cycling here is usually pretty fabulous. Beats being stuck in traffic.

  25. I had asked around at the public ‘meetings’ why there was only presentation and the taking of public comment. Why could we have more meetings with some actual dialog. The default answer was money. Now Michelle has changed her tune and cited our ‘diversity’ as the problem. In speaking with Michelle at the multiple public presentations on the bike plan she did nothing but deflect my comments with excuses, contort the discussion into issues I should solve, and she even stomped away so she would have to listen to my ideas. Often times after our dialog ended I felt that LA’s bike problems were all my fault.

    Do we really think that more money or a less ‘diverse’ community is going to change the way she treats the dialog between her office of ‘senior coordinator’ and the cyclists she serves? All the money in the world is not going to change the way Michelle perceives cyclists in LA. Even when she’s presented with a case of road rage against a cyclist she warns that cyclists should be more careful.

    If we are going to get anything done in this city we need an optimist — not a negative, ‘wear your helmet’ ninny troll parasite living off the lost future of the bike plan.

  26. i meant: Why couldn’t we have more meetings with some actual dialog?

    to that point, various groups across the city have been putting their own free time and effort into improving the bike plan and reaching out to the public. if Michelle loves her job so much why doesn’t she put some free time into it too. why hasn’t she attended any of these open and public meetings arranged by these outside groups? If you noticed the whole DOT, Planning and ALTA crew ended the meetings promptly and drove away in their cars as soon as they could. In it for just the paycheck?

    It’s obvious Michelle must hate her job — why doesn’t she just quit and find a better one?

  27. “I’m a gringo and ride my bicycle to work in downtown every day but as far as I can see from first hand experience the majority of people commuting on bicycles to work are by and large Latino.”

    I will second that.

  28. Sean,

    If Michelle Mowery is fired, then what? Will the differences between Portland, OR, and the dirt farmer bastion of Los Angeles, CA, disappear?

    No, really: why is it that such an uproar, a white noise primarily comprised of anonymous schmucks drawing primary school devil horns on a person who merely states the bleeding obvious, is considered a foundation for firing a person?

    I have listened to the entire audio tape, and I have to state that the cyber-din raised here by you and too many others—most of whom will never have the backbone to come forward—is ludicrous.

    If what Michelle Mowery has stated is wrong, then state so. Cyber-Crayon renderings of a person’s photograph only exhibits the idiocy of the person who renders it. And the and a detournement of the woman’s name? Are you kidding me? Why not challenge your “readers” to try that tactic with Tony or any one of the 15 councilmembers. Or the police. Or other people who truly fuck up Los Angeles. Better yet, aim your immature investigative apparatus at what exactly happened that night in Highland Park when a Midnight Rider got shot and there was—mysteriously!—no video available by any of the possibly hundreds of cyclists who were tearing late at night through a nabe that was not their own:

    “The bicycle phenomenon known as Midnight Ridazz had a near tragedy as they rode down Avenue 52 this past Friday night. Around midnight (hence the name), as hundreds of cyclists were making their way from Griffith Park, through Highland Park, and on their way over to Lincoln Heights during the Neverland-themed ride, the group was attacked as they descended down Avenue 52 just before the Pasadena Freeway at Bomer Drive.

    When the rolling mass of cyclists with blinking lights, bells, horns, and amplified music trailers went rolling by a house party on 52, the occupants there started yelling, “Fuck you white boys!” (despite the diverse crowd of men and women of every skin color) As the blocks-long group of bikes continued to pass, the group of men in the yard started throwing beer bottles, pots, and anything they could find at the cyclists.”

    I can think of no related ride that has not has loads of footage when there has been an unwarranted aggression against the cyclist, so it makes me think: what happened here? And why has this incident been shoved so quickly aside? And where is the one video—if not tens or hundreds—that was surely shot as this egregious midnight excursion wound its “blocks-long group of bikes” through a nabe that was clearly neither desirous of such a parade nor the home of those making the noise? (Here’s an idea: invite all these folk to do the same in BelAir or Beverly Hills or Pacific Palisades and get back to us about the wonderful results.)

    Sean, perhaps you and the anonymous moronic hordes you implicitly endorse might exhibit the same amount of passion in investigating Alta as has been shown against Ms. Mowery, before you start shooting the messenger.

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