City of Lights/Ciudad de Luces

We here at LADOT Bike Blog understand that we can’t do it all ourselves; the bike program is a pretty small department operating in a city of 4 million people.  When other groups or people come along who do their part to make LA a better place to bike, we really have to tip our cap.  LADOT Bike Blog understand that actions and solutions from the public, private, and non-profit sides are essential.  Different groups and different approaches, when all pooled together, can help to create the LA we all want to see.  That being said, I had the extreme pleasure of getting to speak with Allison Mannos, LACBC Urban Programs Coordinator and the driving force behind Ciudad De Luces (they also have the Ciudad De Luces Blog – a great read), a program which has been covered by Streetsblog (more than a few times, actually), LA Times, and Be a Green Commuter.

It only started with lights

While getting involved in bicycle advocacy, Allison noticed a large portion of the bicycling community was absent from the discussion – primarily low-income Latino immigrant bicyclists.  This feeling was reinforced by a 2004-2005 Enhanced Outreach Metro Report, completed by former LACBC employee Matt Benjamin(now working for Alta Planning and Design), which not only identified low-income Latinos as a key bike-riding group in Los Angeles, but also classified them as “invisible riders”(also featured in an article from Bicycling Magazine).  These “invisible riders” tend to be recently immigrated Latinos who have little to no voice in bicycle advocacy, rarely ride their bikes for recreation, and don’t readily identify themselves with “bicycle culture”.  This sub-group of the bicycling community often uses their bicycle as their main means of transportation.  Moreover, there is a paucity of available bilingual educational and safety information for this group.

Allison was intrigued.  She started asking some hard questions: How do you bring new immigrants into the fold of the greater LA bike culture?  How do you get their needs and concerns met?  How do you encourage safe riding practices and good bike maintenance habits?

By 2008, Allison and Adonia Lugo, another LACBC volunteer, had come up with a plan.  Armed with 100 headlights from Planet Bike, Allison launched Ciudad De Luces in January of 2009.  The idea was simple:

Our mission is to provide cyclists with bike lights and safety information, with the aim of cultivating future advocates in this community.  The objective of City of Lights is to increase working-class Latino immigrant bicyclists’ safety and empower them to educate and spread bicycle safety information and advocacy to their communities.

This is where Ciudad De Luces differs greatly from a lot of other programs.  It wasn’t their aim to just show up, distribute some swag to bicyclists, and leave.  These kinds of one-off handouts might be nice for the bicyclists that receive free stuff, but it doesn’t do much to change people’s bicycling habits or their access to bicycling information and institutions.  Allison and Ciudad De Luces instead started partnering with the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and IDEPSCA in Central and Downtown LA.  According to Allison, a lot of bike riders in the Latino community use their bikes to get to day labor centers.  By targeting these day labor centers, Ciudad De Luces had the opportunity to reach the most immigrant cyclists possible.

The City of Lights team in action

Though it started with giving away headlights, Ciudad De Luces was soon building relationships with the bicyclists who would regularly commute to the day labor centers.  Throughout 2009, they offered workshops on bicycle maintenance, the legal rights of bicyclists, bicycle safety, and how to request bike racks from LADOT.  They also tried to build community through organized group rides.  More than anything else, they sought to empower riders with skills and knowledge, fostering the type of cycling community that has proven so successful at places like the Bicycle Kitchen and Bike Oven.

The fruits of their labor

The successes of 2009 led in 2010 to the publication of a bike resource guide.  Written in Spanish that includes central-American vernacular, which is spoken by the vast majority of the bicyclists at the day labor centers, Allison boasts that the guide is the first of its kind in the country.  Being written to be culturally relevant, the writing in the guide comes from the perspective of its intended audience and the art is in the graphic “photonovela” style that is extremely popular in Latino culture.

2010 has also seen Ciudad De Luces grow their vision, helping open a bike repair space at the IDEPSCA Downtown Job Center, called BiciDigna.  Allison hopes that such a repair space can grow to become a node of Latino bike activity in much the same way that the Bicycle Kitchen and the Bike Oven have done in other areas of Los Angeles.

For all of their efforts, Ciudad De Luces were honored this March at the National Bike Summit, where they presented their work at “Broadening the Movement to Communities of Color”, and were featured in a Streetsfilm.  They were also presented with a “Streetsie” award by Streetsblog.

To Allison, the keys to success are engagement and commitment.  It’s not enough to go into a community and give things out.  You need to engage with them and treat them as equals.  You need to find out what their concerns are and what they need the most.  But after that initial work is done comes the commitment.  You need to return again and again to make sure progress is being made, to make sure needs are being met, and to be there when new problems arise.  It’s important to make this a project of the people, so they can continue it after the original organizers are gone.

Ciudad De Luces is currently looking for donations to complete their bike repair shop at IDEPSCA Downtown Job Center.  If you’ve got extra tools, money, or volunteer-hours you’d like to donate, you can contact Allison at

LADOT Bike Blog is grateful for the work Ciudad De Luces has done so far, and hopes that what’s been accomplished over the last year is only the beginning.  Congrats, guys.

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