Starting today, June 16, Pacoima residents and businesses may see a sprinkling of orange-red bikes and their riders cruising through its streets and roadways.
And there are observers outside Pacoima and the Valley who are anxiously hoping that the community considers the bikes to be more than a curiosity and embraces them as a way of life.
Pacoima is now host to a pilot program known as Electro-Bici, an electric bike-share program that for the next nine months will test and gauge the community’s willingness to use the bikes as an alternative method of transportation, and share usage with others.
The single-rider e-bikes — donated to the nonprofit organization Pacoima Beautiful by Share Mobility, Inc., which runs its own bike-share programs in Buffalo, New York — are battery-powered and can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Using the bike pedals engages the battery, and a hand brake slows and stops the bike. The e-bikes can travel 20 miles or more on a single charge.
The first riders were selected after learning about the program through social media and fliers posted by Pacoima Beautiful, and then filling out the required forms online. Now that the program is officially launched, anyone interested in getting a bike, and meeting the posted requirements and taking the required training, can apply for a bike on the organization’s website.
Program Starts with 100 Bikes
“We [currently] have 100 bikes,” said Melisa Walk, Pacoima Beautiful policy assistant and project manager, speaking at a press conference held Monday, June 13, in Pacoima to officially announce the project.
“Our first ‘cohort’ is probably going to be around 20 people,” Walk said. “We do three sets of training sessions over the course of three weeks focusing on bike safety, and just knowing the rules of the road and the bike’s operations. About half of them have done two training sessions already and will do their final training session on Thursday and get their bikes.
“The others had their training sessions interrupted by school graduations and other personal responsibilities. But as soon as they complete their makeup sessions, we hope we will have all 20 of them on the road by the end of the month.”
Gabriel Carrillo, a local community organizer in Pacoima, was among those riding the bikes through the community on Monday.
“We know a lot of [the people here in the] community are not super familiar with these bikes,” Carrillo said. “But once you start pedaling, the faster you pedal, the faster it goes. So it’s very easy to control the bike. As far as the battery charge, it also depends on how fast you pedal. When we rode them out the first time to test the bikes, we rode for about two hours and the battery went from ‘full’ to around 50%.”
The bikes and training sessions are free to the public. In addition, Pacoima Beautiful will provide riders with free helmets and free bike locks. The organization will recharge or replace the bike’s batteries as needed at the San Fernando Gardens Community Center, also at no cost.
The organization received a $500,000 grant from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to get the program moving.
“This program was envisioned to invest in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and [other] communities that are really impacted by heavy industrial use,” said Martin Adams, LADWP general manager. “We can help fund it. But it’s really through the hands of the community members and groups, the reach that they have, and the partnerships they’ve created with other organizations, that these things become a reality.”
Walk said Pacoima Beautiful will keep track of users through weekly and monthly check-ins, and that riders will be shown how to lock and disable the bikes when not in use to discourage theft.
“We’ll also have three-month check-ins as well, which are really in-depth surveys, because this pilot program is meant to guide us on how we want to serve [future riders] throughout the year,” she said.
There are other considerations riding on the community’s acceptance and usage total of the bike share program as well.
Rethinking Transportation in Underserved Communities
Pacoima Beautiful has partnered the managing of the project with Shared Mobility Inc., Equiticity Racial Equity Movement, Mobility Development and People for Mobility Justice.
Olantunji Oboi Reed, president and CEO of Equiticity which is based in Chicago, believes bike share programs can be transformative as transportation in communities of color.
“We are thinking about this program as a vehicle to improve life outcomes for our people,” he said at the press conference.
“We recognize that there are [transportation] models that exist in our neighborhoods that don’t always serve our people in an equitable way. This program is designed to be equitable from the beginning. And one of the ways we do that is to make sure that the program is community-owned. And that’s why Pacoima Beautiful is our lead partner, and taking responsibility for bringing this project to LA.”
Reed stressed that neither his nor the other organizations involved in this program are “anti-car.”
“The context of our neighborhoods, structural racism, the inequities in our neighborhoods that we face — I’m talking about Black and Brown people — don’t allow us to take an ‘anti-car’ perspective,” he said.
“However, what we do want people to begin to trust is that there are other modes of travel that are cleaner and more sustainable. And the e-bike is one of those modes of travel — in addition to scooters, in addition to transit — where there’s shared mobility.”
The continuing COVID health crisis is “a deep concern,” Reed said, but he hopes it will not make potential riders hesitant about touching and riding e-bikes that others may have used.
“Health and safety is always priority number one. So we are building in strict protocols, from the cleaning [of the bikes] to how we socialize around the e-bike library,” Reed said. “All of that is first priority for us in this work.”
What Are Reasonable Expectations
Others with a more-than-casual interest in the success of the program who were at the press conference included Eli Akira Kaufman, executive director of the LA County Bicycle Coalition, and Marcel Porras, of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT).
“This is a commuting program up here in Pacoima,” Kaufman said. “But it’s also [part of] this idea that the electric bike can actually shrink the sprawl of Los Angeles and make it more accessible for people to get around without having to get into cars, or having to deal with all the expenses of car travel these days.
“E-bikes have historically been too expensive for the average Angeleno to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna buy myself a [more than] $1,000 bike.’ But the price point is coming down as the technology gets more accessible and more affordable. So now they’re actually becoming a meaningful option for a lot of people.”
While Porras said the LADOT “is really interested in increasing mobility options for Angelenos,” he cautioned against this program being a one-size-fits-all solution.
“All mobility solutions have to be context-sensitive,” Porras said. “What works in Pacoima may not work in Leimert Park or at Warner Center. But it really starts with this community-led engagement type of strategy, the way that Pacoima Beautiful is doing this to really understand, and train, and sit with people and iterate how these different mobility solutions can augment someone’s life.
“LADOT is really interested in the lessons learned on how they do here.”
For those seeking more information or interested in signing up for the bike share program, visit https://www.pacoimabeautiful.org/programs/electro-bici.