Sustainable Transport Lecture held by Environmental Studies dept.

To educate about sustainable transportation that meets the needs of marginalized communities, urban anthropologist Dr. Adonia Lugo presented her lecture “Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, and Resistance,” based off of her book of the same name. Lugo’s presentation was sponsored by the Environmental Studies department and was held in Thomas Steitz Hall room 102 on Thursday, October 11, at 7:30 p.m.

“I think people should be looking at what makes the ways we get around acceptable,” said Lugo when first introducing the topic of sustainable transportation. “The idea that it’s okay to travel fifty miles between work and home,” continued Lugo, “is at the root of the problem [of creating sustainable transportation].”

When Lugo first started this project, she wondered what unwritten rules of society governed transportation. She wanted to look at more than the physical structures of transportation. “Anthropologists look at the world and wonder,” stated Lugo. “Why it is that we have rules we live with that aren’t necessarily written down and how these rules can change fluidly?”

“What I’ve learned over the years,” said Lugo, “is that a lot of the people promoting biking aren’t necessarily coming from a place where they understand a lot of the insecurity of transportation.” Many of the people Lugo has worked with are more concerned about creating more physical access to bike-able roads, and also having more bikes available for the public.

Rather than focusing on infrastructure, Lugo is more concerned with aspects of transportation such as safety. Lugo wants to redefine bike safety as more than just the typical aspects of bike safety, such as being hit by a car, and expand this definition to encompass social and emotional concerns that might come with biking.

The history of biking and also the histories of the communities that are trying to promote biking as a more sustainable form of transportation are things Lugo considers extremely important to creating a positive change in sustainable transportation.

“The more we can see the relation between the old harms and the current habits,” asserted Lugo about the movement to promote biking, “the better we can create change.” This is why in her work in the Los Angeles area, Lugo has done extensive research into the history of the area as well as the social history of the bicycle.

In her summary of the research Lugo did on the history of the Los Angeles area, she started with when the area was first colonized by Spain. Lugo discussed the violence of this colonization describing how it was “so violent we’ve been shrinking from it ever since.”

Lugo described how this violent colonization was key in forming the California of today. One factor which Lugo described as a contributor to why Californians are willing to commute so far is that when the Spanish colonized California, they built many forts along the coast. In some locations, there would be only a mile between each one. Due to this, cities ended up being formed relatively close to each other and contributed to the idea that two locations were close together even if they were many miles apart.

As recounted by Lugo, Los Angeles was created to be sprawling with many outer suburbs. “Racial separation,” said Lugo, “was one of the draws of suburban life,” since living in the suburbs allowed the upper-class whites to avoid the people who they considered to be foreigners who were actually the original residents of the area.

This history of the area combined with the history of the bicycle and the current idea that many people hold of biking being something for wealthy white men all contribute to problems of sustainable transportation in the Los Angeles area. Lugo also found in her research that in other areas of the country, history and social issues also cause problems for promoting sustainable transportation.

Lugo concluded by taking questions from the audience and discussing how to best promote sustainable transportation. She emphasized the need to start with creating places for communities to talk about biking and fix bikes rather than adding on to physical infrastructure, such as roads. “Mindset,” ended Lugo, “is the main thing that needs to change in populations in order to effectively promote sustainable transportation.”