2018 - Research

Shadow mobilities: regulating migrant bicyclists in Ontario, Canada

Key takeaway:

  • Bicycling is an essential, yet inadequate mode of transportation for migrant farmworkers in rural Ontario. Migrant farmworkers are offered bike safety education, but it unfairly regulates their bicycling conduct rather than unsafe bicycling road conditions. 

Key takeaway:

  • Bicycling is an essential, yet inadequate mode of transportation for migrant farmworkers in rural Ontario. Migrant farmworkers are offered bike safety education, but it unfairly regulates their bicycling conduct rather than unsafe bicycling road conditions. There is too much focus on education without sufficient focus on engineering and infrastructure improvements that would promote true safety.

 Results:

  • Bicycling fatalities among migrant farmworkers in rural Ontario are common, which makes migrant bicyclists the target of bike safety education. Although this may seem well intentioned, it further stigmatizes migrant farmworkers who already stand out a lot as people of color in a mostly white context, and bicyclists on car-centric roads. It suggests that they do not know how to commute via bicycle safely and that safe bicycling is an individual problem that stems from individual bad behavior, as opposed to dangerous road conditions that are inhospitable to bicycling.
  • Critics of bike education argue that it characterizes bicycling risks as problems that individual bicyclists need to overcome through behavioral competencies, while glossing over the fact that car-centric built environments and culture makes bicycling dangerous.
  • There is a widespread false assumption (reflected in bike safety education material and in local government) that migrant farmworkers commonly bike for transportation in their home countries (i.e., Trinidad, Jamaica, Mexico) and do so in a laid-back, casual manner. Thus, bike education that targets migrants is premised on correcting their ‘bad’ bicycling behavior, which is based on their cultural norms.
  • Most bike fatalities among migrant farmworkers have occurred at night, so migrants are dissuaded from bicycling at night and told to make themselves more visible by riding in more orderly, predictable ways for drivers, and wearing lights or reflective gear.
  • Employers and police often deliver bike safety education for migrants. Bike safety, thus, is imposed on migrants as a work regulation, not a choice, like it is for other bicyclists.
  • Local bike advocates are concerned about the unsafe road conditions that migrant farmworkers have to bicycle in. They feel that local officials (i.e., police, government authorities, and employers) discriminate against migrant bicyclists because of their race, class, and migrant status, and are less responsive to their safety concerns and needs. 

 Implications:

  • Bike safety discourses are inflected by racial, class, and citizenship inequities that can remain unexamined and unchallenged by bike advocates. It is important that efforts to make bicycling safer and more accessible integrate a racial and economic justice lens.
  • Bicycle safety education on its own is often insufficient. Comprehensive efforts to improve street safety should combine education with engineering improvements to improve safety for all road users.

 

Methods:

  • The author reviewed bike safety education material and conducted twenty-five interviews with local civil society, government, and migrant advocacy groups as well as thirty semi-structured interviews with migrants (mostly men from Trinidad, Jamaica, and Mexico) in rural agricultural regions in southern Ontario.

 Reid-Musson, E. (2017). Shadow mobilities: regulating migrant bicyclists in Ontario, Canada. Mobilities.