I’m starting to think that maybe more immigrants might help our country’s transportation systems and culture, especially after reading a recent study by UCLA professor Michael Smart entitled US immigrants and bicycling: Two-wheeled in Autopia which found that immigrants—legally or illegally in the US—are twice as likely as Americans to travel primarily by bicycle. This could help account for why first generation immigrants are almost always more healthy when they first arrive in the United States than in subsequent generations. And immigrants are also twice as likely to use alternative modes of transportation—walk, bike, ride—than non-immigrants. More than 20 percent of new immigrants use some other mode to get around while that figure is less than 10 percent for US born citizens.

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  • Why immigrants bike—and use alternative modes—is still not entirely clear, although the study uses data from a number of sources to draw some guesses. One obvious one is that newly arrived people to the United States don’t have access to a car. Cars are expensive to buy, operate, and maintain. New immigrants often live in urban environments that are more conducive to getting around by bike and as we’ve talked about in our many postson biking, the United States is really an outlier when it comes to bike use, falling far behind most other countries. 

    Immigration Chart

    So however new people arrive in our country, and whatever their status when they are here, clearly they are bringing a bike and alternative transportation culture with them. And we can learn from them. One important implication of the study is that bike advocacy groups would do well to reach out more to communities not typically represented in their ranks. Combining forces with immigrant communities could add to efforts to improve bike infrastructure. And Seattle (Walk, Bike, Ride) and Portland (20 Minute Neighborhoods) will likely find support for their efforts to make neighborhoods more walkable and bikeable from immigrant communities that are disproportionately dependent on getting around without a car. Immigration is likely to stay a hot issue of contentious debate, but new immigrants arrive in the United States healthier and more likely to bike, walk or bus than drive a car.