Will ‘Mobility Justice’ Break Down Barriers to Safe Transportation?

Getting to your destination is not a privilege

Has a motorist ever screamed “Get off the road!” at you as you biked to the grocery store? Ever been pulled over by the police for a busted tail light but worried their decision to stop you was a form of racial profiling? Or been cat-called while you were walking to work?

For many of us, safe travel within our communities is far from a given. But activists in the mobility justice movement believe getting around without fear should be a right, not a privilege.

One of those activists is Adonia Lugo, an urban anthropologist and mobility justice strategist in Los Angeles.

She’s the co-founder of local organization People for Mobility Justice and a core organizer and academic liaison for The Untokening, “a multiracial collective that centers the lived experiences of marginalized communities to address mobility justice and equity,” according to the organization’s website.

Lugo also wrote “Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance,” a memoir about racial justice and sustainable transportation.

Lugo’s work addresses “the people side of mobility.” She started out focusing on bike access, but found that movement to be too centered around physical infrastructure, like adding bike lanes and racks in cities.

As an anthropologist, Lugo enjoys studying what she calls “culture as human infrastructure.”

“Usually I have a few calls on my schedule with folks around the country seeking advice on transportation and racial justice,” she said. “I get to talk to a lot of students and advocates.”

Making transportation work for everyone

Often, experts who discuss incorporating physical infrastructure such as cycle tracks – bike lanes that are physically separated from traffic – as a means of making transportation more equitable follow the “if you build it, they will come,” mantra, Lugo says.

But the human infrastructure-centered approach begins in a totally different place: with people and culture.

Her passion for mobility justice began with a desire to see folks more comfortable in her own community.

“I wanted more people to see that they could feel powerful in Southern California without needing a car,” she said. “It doesn’t seem right that we treat each other so poorly on streets.”

Lugo and other mobility justice advocates seek solutions to social issues such as driver aggression toward bicyclists and fear of law enforcement.

They hope to popularize a “community hub model.” That includes building resources within communities, like black-owned bike shops in majority black neighborhoods and urban planning training programs that enable youth and elders to work together.

It’s a safeguard against a common power struggle. Mobility justice advocates hope centering community members will help them be viewed as experts on their own transportation issues and be paid to define and solve their own mobility problems, rather than having solutions imposed on them by outside experts hired by local government.

When the opinions of outsiders are treated as supreme, “it really doesn’t seem like they’re planning for us,” Lugo said.

The mobility justice movement is picking up steam, she said, but “a lot of education and reprioritization” still needs to happen in order to turn the focus of transportation and mobility investment and planning toward communities rather than industries.

Creating change in your community

Want to fight for mobility justice in your own community but don’t know where to start? Lugo recommends paying attention to the mobility justice issues that local advocates are discussing and looking for related advocacy organizations or community groups to join.

Have a specific issue in mind, like reducing racially motivated traffic stops, ensuring that immigrants can commute without fear of being detained or making city buses harassment-free? It’s time to research and organize.

Investigate what, if anything, local advocates and organizations are doing to fight for mobility justice in your area of interest. If one of those strategies is working (or seems promising), why not join that movement?

Want to start your own? It’s critical that you find and invite other members of your community to join you, Lugo said. Focus on forming a diverse group by including people of different backgrounds, races and ethnicities, ages, gender identities, abilities and more. Remember, you want inclusion — not an echo chamber.

Another option is to assemble a community forum to identify mobility justice problems in your community, discuss potential solutions and advocate for change, Lugo said.

Again, make sure the group is diverse and make space for everyone to voice their concerns and opinions.

“Elevate voices that are less prominent,” she said.

Rachel Crowell

Rachel Crowell is an Iowa-based writer exploring science and math. Rachel lives with Delilah, a golden retriever a stranger once called “the cutest thing in America.” Outside of STEM topics, Rachel also welcomes writing opportunities on everything from art to finance. Follow them on Twitter at @writesRCrowell.