Why it’s essential to talk about power when talking about traffic violence
Updated: May 19
By Brenda Yancor, LACBC's Senior Community Engagement Manager
I fell in love with cycling when I had no other choice. I spent my childhood riding buses and trains and I didn’t have a car nor was I dying to get one once I graduated college. But I wanted freedom, which the bicycle gave plenty. Six years ago I bought my first car for a job that would have me traveling between San Fernando, Koreatown, South Central and Watts on the regular. As much as I envision and work towards an LA County where you don’t need a vehicle to have a decent life, I understand first-hand the increased financial and recreational opportunities that come with having a car in LA.
When I talk to people about what I do, a response I’ve been met with more than once is, “I used to ride, but had too many close calls with cars and stopped.”
Cycling is such an amazing and healthy way of getting around. There’s something about locking into a steady cadence that feels ancestral & innate. Cycling combines so many ways of feeling alive - cardio, adrenaline, feeling the wind in your face.
Riding is a sensible, empowering solution to many urban ailments. And yet, the bike friendly Los Angeles we all deserve is being held hostage in the way so many of our utopias are held hostage - via an inequitable distribution of power and resources.
I’m grateful that my work allows me to dive deep into the joys of cycling. It’s what keeps this work fulfilling for me and anchors me in the waves of grief that come with each news of another person killed or hurt while riding. No matter the circumstances of each incident (whether driver or cyclist was at fault), each death while riding is tragic and unnecessary.
At the time of publishing this blog, 10 cyclists and one scooter rider have been killed while rolling in Los Angeles County in 2022.
While cycling or scooting - like anything worth doing - will never be without risk, the speed and weight of vehicles combined with the negligence of the built environment means that a crash with an automobile is more likely to maim and kill.
When it comes to creating the change we seek as LACBC, it’s our responsibility to examine what this work means on a deeper level. How can we achieve transformative change without looking at how we got here? Once we start to peel back the layers of obstacles to the Los Angeles we all deserve, we can’t look away from how privilege and class manifest on the road.
The way we currently get around in Los Angeles puts us in direct contact with other road users, and we’re all interacting based on our status of power. Car drivers have the most power, obviously the bigger the vehicle the more power they wield, quite literally. Without going into the finer details, status then breaks down to motorcycle riders, bicycle and scooter riders, pedestrians, differently abled folks. With pedestrians you can break it down even further between young children, the elderly, and folks transporting large items on foot (such as houseless folks). The LA of today is asking the most powerful road users to check themselves, but we live in a society that routinely and systematically exploits the most vulnerable. The work to achieve safer streets in Los Angeles is the work to shift an imbalance of power, by asking for our collective resources to be put towards infrastructure that benefits the least powerful.
When I look at the work towards a bikeable Los Angeles through the lens of power, I can’t help but see the way this directly correlates to class. As someone who dreams of safer roads, I think it’s crucial for active transportation advocates to acknowledge that this work is directly tied to the way class differences create an imbalance of power on the street. Were that not the case, protecting more vulnerable road users would be the status quo, as would be protecting the most vulnerable in society.
With more than 4,700 square miles and various municipalities, cities, and unincorporated areas, LA County will need to see radical change for us to have the comprehensive active transportation network we dream of.
As tall an order as that seems, fighting for safer streets is worth it.
I consider it my job to learn more about each Angeleno killed while riding and hold space for this member of our community that was taken before their time. I think about how important it is for us to keep pushing for this reclaiming of space, and how much work it will be in a place where land sells for millions.
The only thing that will make a difference is the only thing that ever does - people coming together to demand it.
As an advocacy org, it’s not our role to speak the loudest. Rather, our work should be to use our platform and proximity to decision-makers to amplify the voices of those in our community of riders.
For today’s world wide Ride of Silence, may we honor those who have been killed or injured by motorists by taking a moment to remember those we’ve lost, the named and unnamed. May we acknowledge the sanctity of their life - even if we never knew them - and continue to fight for everyone's right to move freely.
Traffic Violence is on the rise, and the current state and lack of safety on the streets of LA is unacceptable. LACBC and sister mobility justice advocates have been working for years on changing the car culture and infrastructure that allows for senseless destruction of lives, communities and our environment. Our programs and initiatives support the lived experience of riding bicycles in LA - here are some ways to get involved and support our work.
Check out and get involved in the Sunset4All movement
Have a story of traffic violence you’d like to share? Use UC Berkeley’s Street Story:
No one plans to get into a car crash but if you're one of the many Angelenos injured or lost a loved one in traffic violence, it can be incredibly painful, confusing, and frustrating. Click below to find a Resource Guide created by Southern California Families for Safe Streets, families who have been impacted by traffic violence themselves.
Brenda is a daughter of immigrant parents and grew up in Southeast Los Angeles County. She received a BA in History and minor in Latin American studies from UCLA in 2008. Brenda started using bicycles to get around town in 2009. She has experience working in bike mechanic cooperatives, used her bike to get from Los Angeles to Guatemala in 2012, and became a League Cycling Instructor with the League of American Bicyclists in 2013.
Brenda has a professional background that includes bicycle safety education for youth & adults, taking youth out on rides throughout Los Angeles, planning group bike camping trips, sustainable food production & land management, and leading youth and adults on hiking trips. Brenda is driven to work toward a world where people can stay true to themselves and live their best life.
For fun, Brenda enjoys listening to podcasts, talking to her goldfishes and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.