Women On Bikes SoCal had the privilege of sitting down earlier this January and speaking with Jennifer Klausner, the Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), and Alexis Lantz, the organization's Planning and Policy Director. The LACBC engages in a wide variety of policy, advocacy, education, and community building work to make the streets of Los Angeles County more bike friendly for all types of cyclists, and is the only nonprofit, membership-based organization working exclusively for the millions of bicyclists in Los Angeles County.
These two dynamic young women not only play key leadership roles in the preeminent advocacy organization for bicycle advocacy in the greater Los Angeles region, they also do a tremendous job collaborating with government and advocacy organizations on both the regional and state wide level to further the cause, voice and presence of a bicycle friendly agenda.
Jennifer Klausner - the LACBC's Executive Director
WoBSoCal: Give us a little background on the LACBC. The organization was founded in 1998 by Ron Milam, correct?
LACBC: Yes, LACBC was founded by a group of volunteers lead by Ron Milam in 1998 with the support of the California Bicycle Coalition. We became a 501c3 in 2001. Some of our early successful campaigns included getting bike racks on buses and bicycle lanes implemented on Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake Blvd., and Venice Blvd. in the City of Los Angeles.
WoBSoCal: What are the accomplishments for 2011 that you're most proud of and what are you most excited about moving forward into 2012?
LACBC: We have grown as an organization, increased our capacity and our geographic reach, and we’re working directly with a greater number of cities than ever before. One of the ways we have been able to expand our capacity is through fostering local advocacy chapters of LACBC around the county, we refer to this program as our Regional Partnership. We now have nine regional chapters and have also become the fiscal umbrella for a handful of projects that are consistent with our mission. We hope to see these chapters and programs thrive and further effect our growth during this next year.
Last year the City of LA adopted their bike plan, which we and the entire bike community in the City of Los Angeles fought long and hard to improve. Additionally we worked with seven cities in the South Bay to have them adopt a seven city bicycle master plan. Also a number of other cities around the county adopted bike plans in 2011 and we hope to see more cities create and adopt bike plans in 2012. We are dedicated to seeing more cities implement more miles of bike lanes, boulevards, and paths to support the many people who ride bicycles currently and make it safer and more appealing for the many folks who would like to bicycle for transportation or recreation.
WoBSoCal: Greater Los Angeles is a very culturally diverse place with many different languages spoken. Tell us about the Metabolic Studio grant that you were recently awarded and how that will be assisting the LABCB in your goals?
LACBC: We recently received a $50,000 grant from the Metabolic Studio to support our City of Lights and Bici Libre programs. These funds will allow us to continue to grow and expand our bi-lingual bicycle safety education program. Andy Rodriguez, our Bilingual Bicycle Safety Coordinator, who oversees our City of Lights program is expanding our Spanish bicycle safety education program to youth and families in East, Central, and South Los Angeles.In addition, a portion of the funding will also allow us to maintain our community run bike repair space, Bici Libre in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles.
WoBSoCal: We live in challenging economic times and yet non profits are currently a growth industry. What are your biggest challenges right now, and on the other side, what are the bright lights on the horizon?
LACBC: We constantly find ourselves not having enough staff capacity to take on the many challenges and issues in working with the 88 cities in Los Angeles County along with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority and the unincorporated areas of the Los Angeles County. We have several grants that will expire this year and there will be a gap before they can be replaced. We also had several very generous donors grant LACBC unrestricted operating funds in 2011, and we know that kind of funding doesn’t come around every year. Hope on the horizon lies with the ever-expanding bicycle community. We need to continue efforts to grow our membership and donor base among the two-wheel enlightened.
Alexis Lantz - the LACBC's Planning & Policy Director
WoBSoCal: You both have very eclectic professional backgrounds that include marketing, graphic design and creative products. How do you feel this type of background helps you in bringing fresh ideas and approaches to advocacy in general, and in specific, to a region that is very media savvy?
LACBC:Southern California is very media savvy and because there are so many new cyclists who are young, social media is increasingly important for what we do. I think having diverse business backgrounds helps us frame what we are working towards in a larger context that makes sense for our audience.
WobSoCal: On the media savvy and culture note speak to us of the importance of having a distinctive female voice for bicycling advocacy here in the greater Los Angeles region. You currently have a mostly female staff. How has that allowed you to grow your membership and programs in new and important ways?
LACBC:We know that in cultures that embrace cycling and in cities that do a good job of accommodating cyclists' needs safely, greater numbers of women choose to ride. Our culture and roadway infrastructure here in Southern California (and let's be honest, some aspects of our cycling community's sub-cultures) are such that women cyclists are still far outnumbered by their male counterparts, even though we have seen increases in ridership across the board. I think it is effective in this context for us to have women in senior staff positions and as spokespeople, because we can represent the desire and potential for more, better, safer cycling in L.A. County, from the perspectives of not just those who already ride, but also for those would-be cyclists who may not feel safe, supported, or invited just yet.
WoBSoCal: One last question - Jen you are an avid athletic cyclist and Alexis you claim you're more in the "interested but concerned" category (which makes up about 60% of those of us who are interested in riding bikes). Share why it's so important to make sure the LACBC is the voice of all kinds of people who want to ride bikes.
Alexis: Our mission is to build a better bike-able Los Angeles County. We strive to represent the needs of all people regardless of age or ability who want to bicycle (for whatever reason), which is at the core of our mission. Cycling is something that is great for people of all ages and abilities for every day transportation, their health, and their wallets. So for me in my role as the Planning & Policy Director it is extremely important to improve our urban and rural roadways for everyday transportation as well as recreational cycling. In particular though I am really interested in addressing the "concerned but interested" Angelenos since they make up the bulk of the population in the county. Better infrastructure, like what the City of Long Beach has been implementing, is one of the primary ways we are going to see more of these people start to use bicycle for their short trips and in turn hopefully become LACBC members. ;)
Jen: Yes! I so agree. We're just two examples of the different connections you can have with bikes and with this movement. There are so many reasons to ride - whether for convenience, cost savings, transportation, fun, fitness, competition, socializing, etc etc etc - it shouldn't really matter *why* you ride bikes, just that you do. LA County's real cycling community is made of many diverse segments - different kinds of riders with different reasons for riding, clubs and groups that may have some cross-over in their composition but never ride together, huge numbers of unaffiliated solo riders, more and more young people and families. We need to consider all of these people, all of these cycling segments, when we're looking ahead to the future of bicycle mobility.