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.)