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Bike Lights 2010 (with a Confession)

WABA's giveaway lights

Daylight Saving Time is ending and it’s going to be getting dark earlier. So as usual, WABA will be giving out free bike lights to those who need them. But we’re going to do things a bit differently this year. We’re hoping to focus on the “those who need them” part.

Of course, everyone needs a light if riding a bike at night. But I’m not sure everyone needs one supplied by the DC government and WABA.

Here’s my confession: Before I started working here, I hit up WABA for a new light every year. I would see the “Got Lights” giveaway advertised, show up, and get my free light. And since I put it to good use, I never thought twice about it taking a light. Seemed like a nice perk of membership.

But now that I’m working here and know a bit more about the program, I see what it’s really meant to be. It’s intended to get lights into the hands of people who ride at night regularly, but who either can’t afford or otherwise won’t access a light. From my limited research, it seems that Los Angeles was the first place to really effectively use light giveaways to improve cyclist safety, and they did it by targeting the large population of Latino riders who often commute to and from work in the early morning or late evening when it’s dark.

DC’s program is modeled somewhat on that one. WABA’s giveaways have generally taken place in areas with a large Spanish-speaking population in order to target the same demographic that Los Angeles successfully targeted with its campaign. But still, the big WABA tent and public announcements drew a large number of members and cyclists (like me) who could have afforded to buy our own lights at any shop, and just thought of these as a membership perk.

So this year, we’re going to do things differently. Starting last week, WABA staff began taking smaller batches of lights with them while riding around the District after dusk. When we see people actually riding without lights at night, we offer them lights. But we’re not advertising it and we’re not telling people where we’re going to be with much (if any) advance warning.

The goal here is to use these lights to make the greatest possible impact on safety. We want every light to go to someone who (1) actually rides a bike (2) at night  (3) without a light and (4) would not otherwise get a light.

So if you can afford to purchase your own light, we would encourage you to do so. We have a full list of regional bike shops who would love your business here.  And last night I donated back to WABA the $18 it cost  to provide me with those 2 light sets I received in past years.  If you’d like to similarly help us with our safety and advocacy efforts by donating the cost of a light set, you can do so here with a donation of $9.

To those of you who were hoping to get your annual blinky-light set from WABA, I hope you understand why we’re changing tactics this year.  Of course, we won’t turn you away if you find us on the street or visit us at a giveaway event.  But we hope that you’ll help us get lights to those who most need free lights.

(And we’d like to thank DDOT for their generous grant covering the cost of many lights, as well as District Hardware/The Bike Shop for providing the light sets at a discount and rushing them here prior to the end of Daylight Saving Time.)

7 comments
TB
TB

It is also important to get other to wear reflective clothing - runners especially - that share the trails with us. Sometimes its very hard to see someone who is wearing black!

Jerry Jackson
Jerry Jackson

Great idea, Shane. We need something like that in Baltimore. I could have given away a couple dozen last week (and a few helmets, too!) I just did a review of tail lights for the Baltimore Sun and have one very nice VIS180 that we are giving away to one of our commenters next Monday. If you are interested: http://bit.ly/cJBQCT

Shawn
Shawn

I used to really look forward to the blinky giveaway as well, and I did really need them the first time, but I feel much better about my membership and participation in WABA knowing that the lights will be going to people that really need them. Hopefully that will make the streets and trails safer for all of us! Count me in on a volunteer distribution plan if you come up with one. Those lights retail online for $15 and in stores for closer to $20, so the $9 'confessional' price is a bargain. Great work Shane!

Dave
Dave

When you find the source, here are two distribution ideas: Package the sets in a paper bag with a WABA stamp or sticker on it and an explanation card stapled to it and a $10 "suggested donation" price tag. You don't have to actually take the money, but you do need to communicate that the lights aren't simply free - and the card can help explain what WABA does and how the light distribution program works. Sell them as twofers for $20. The catch is that when you buy one you're donating the second set for distribution at a giveaway, and the extra $2 can go to the program - "buy one, give one". It's still a pretty good price (I bought my daughter one of the cheapest decent light sets I could find last year for $25) and it lets folks who have the means help some who might not.

Shane Farthing
Shane Farthing

@Brock, we'll look into it. Just this morning I was wondering how we could expand the network by getting others to give out and install lights, perhaps as a trick-or-treat/in-lieu-of-candy Halloween thing next year. The challenge is that it's hard to find the lights. With so many bike groups nationally trying to give out large quantities in the fall, there literally aren't enough cheap lights in the industry right now. But we'll keep thinking....

Brock
Brock

Love the new tactic! I pass people riding without lights almost every night when I walk my dog. Any idea if there's somewhere I could get a box of lights cheaply? I'd love to take a couple sets out with me on our walks to hand out to people who need them.

jenny
jenny

great to hear about this new tactic!! you might also try better signs in spanish for the giveaways (feel free to email me for help with translations or if you need a spanish-spaeking volunteer at a light give-away)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] program for 2012, giving away 1,000 free sets of front and rear lights (provided by DDOT). The program is designed to target bicyclists riding after dark without lights. This post is a personal story from Gina Arlotto, who handles WABA’s Planning and [...]

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