This is the second installment of my adventures in public transportation!
Michael Smart is a doctoral candidate in the department of Urban Planning with a focus on transportation studies at UCLA. He seems like your average nice guy: has a dog, lives downtown, bathes regularly… but under this normalcy lies a person that has never owned a car. Never. And he now lives in Los Angeles, where you are judged by your car, live in your car, breathe car fumes daily.
This probably partially explains his career choice in life, which needless to say, is to improve OUR lives and hopefully help liberate us from the tyranny of cars. I should mention I am a horrible driver and get in at least two accidents a year and have totaled three cars so far. Yes, my insurance is a fortune to pay.
I am pleased to present an interview with Michael concerning his recent study which identifies immigrants as the group most likely to use bicycles to get around in the United States (in particular, NYC and LA).
TC.Com: Why did you choose to study the use of bicycles as a mode of transportation for the immigrant population?
Michael: I was researching how immigrants get around and out of that was born the focus on bicycles. I was always interested in finding out why immigrants travel so differently than those born in the U.S. Nobody bikes very much [in the United States], yet immigrants are biking more than anyone else in the U.S. Even in the tiny phenomenon in the world of public transportation, the fact that one group of people is doing it more than others is worthy of research, because we want people to bike.
We think of biking as good, but other reasons people are biking is because they can’t do other things they would prefer to do. They may want to drive, may want do all the things they want to do in a car better than on a bike. Something is preventing them from doing that. We might think of traffic congestion, environment, but there is something structural blocking what these people want to do so that is worth figuring out what is blocking those barriers.
TC.Com: It sounded like there were several barriers with incomplete or unavailable data on certain immigration groups. What data do you wish was more readily available in order to provide a more concise evaluation?
Michael: The big one is that in all the transportation datasets we have, we don’t know if the person responding is an immigrant or not. There are good reasons why it can’t be asked – fear from the immigrants, even if they are documented, very leery to talk about that. Another thing that is missing from data sets is good detail on where people are from (country of origin). Also, the questions only ask about using public transportation to get to work, not personal needs trips.
TC.Com: Your study touches upon a very hot topic right now in the United States in regards to illegal immigrants and how they are using bicycle transportation in order to stay ‘under the radar’. Are you concerned that your research could be used as a political tool and/or misconstrued due to the political environment surrounding this issue?
Michael: There is probably some danger to that, that some clever law enforcement person will use it for profiling.
The point I am trying to make in the paper is that the public sector isn’t doing any outreach. Building/planning/funding bicycle centers, planners are naively modernist – if we have a public forum and open the door, whoever comes, comes. The planners don’t have the money or resources to do much more than what they can do now.
Because I am an urban planner, I’m interested in how money is used to shape how we live in cities. Right now it’s done without a lot of outreach to immigrant communities (talking about biking specifically).
TC.Com: And finally, do you commute via bicycle?
Michael: Yes, I ride a 3 speed. I have two of them. A Schwinn from 1961 that I love and a new one from Nirve which is nice. I also have a 1970s 10 speed Schwinn.
Thank you SO much, Michael, for taking the time to provide an interview!!
Stay tuned for tomorrow, where I had to take public transportation to GET HOME. Did I get home? Could I be updating this from a metro bus somewhere in Los Angeles!?