Invisible Trajectories

writings: THE OTHER SIDE OF MOBILITY

The Inland Empire is a restless, dynamic region filled with a simultaneous unfolding of spaces and times, working at different speeds and in different measures. Quantified time has fragmented our lives and “like space, it divides itself into lots and parcels,” according to the French sociologist Henri Lefebvre.

In the Inland Empire, the privileged perceptions of time and space are determined by automobile travel. For most of us, the car shapes how we think, move, and function. But for a large section of the population, easy mobility by private automobile is not a given. For them, transportation is a complex and often painful process. They are the “less-mobile.” This group creates the subtle rhythms of urban life in the Inland Empire. They are often ignored by transportation policies and underserved by the layout of the built environment.

Everyday, these hidden citizens ride the Omni, Foothill Transit, and RTA buses that fight automobiles for space on the city streets. Buses pick up riders at isolated stops and take them to distant locations. Reluctant bicyclists stay close to the edge of the road, avoiding the throng of traffic pulsing to their left. Pedestrians walk alone along roads without sidewalks.

Who are these people and where are they going?

Michel de Certeau, in his book The Practice of Everyday Life, weighs in on the subject of the pedestrian, whose “walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects…the trajectories it speaks.” Unlike the world of the motorist, the world of the walker is always uncertain. In the Inland Empire, the pedestrian notices the smallest changes in her surroundings. The walker feels the shifts in climate from the slowly warming day to the chill of the late evening. Walking in the I.E. is often a solitary affair. Time is either spent inside one’s head, looking at the ground, or far into the distance, attempting to catch a first glimpse of the coming bus.

“Walking,” says writer Rebecca Solnit, “is only the beginning of citizenship, but through it the citizen knows his or her city and fellow citizens and truly inhabits the city rather than a small privatized part thereof.” On foot, distances between places are felt in the body. Physical exertion is measured in miles. “Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life,” Solnit writes, “the personal microcosm with the public macrocosm; it makes sense of the maze all around.”

The bus rider and the pedestrian are one and the same in the Inland Empire. The pedestrian has wheels only when the schedule allows and the bus rider becomes a pedestrian at the end of the line. On the Inland Empire bus, the necktie-wearing, latte-sipping yuppies that you find on a New York subway are absent. On the Omni Transit bus in Upland or on a Barstow Area Transit shuttle in the Mojave, you’ll find only those without a choice in transportation options: the second-class citizens of the transportation hierarchy. Recent immigrants, single mothers, and elderly folks endure excruciating commutes without complaint.

Sikivu Hutchinson has referred to the world of the bus rider as a “parallel city” with “street plans” that “flow in quiet asynchrony to the virtual city beyond the car window, enclosing the women who wait with their packages in front of hospitals, grocery stores, check-cashing places, day care centers.” All across America, claims Hutchison, “the bus is a city of women…working class women of color” who form the “backbone of bus riders in intensely exurban cities…”

The Inland Empire’s “parallel city” inhabitants ride the #14 Omni Bus from Fontana to San Bernardino and the #9 to Riverside. These routes are the lifelines of those challenged by transportation.

Riding the bus, you see the towns: no sound walls obstruct your view. You see the poorest neighborhoods and the wealthy gated communities. City spaces are exposed and buses moves delicately through them. The restlessness of the I.E. is revealed.

The bicycle is the other tool of the less-mobile. The “parallel city” of the transit-cyclist is much different from the world of latex-clad athlete. The transit-cyclist is either heading to work, home, or out for an errand. They wear no fancy gear and often get by on a bike in need of repair. The transit cyclist, like the pedestrian, is also a part of the parallel city of bus passengers. If not pedaling along the side street, his bike is on the front rack as he relaxes on the ride home.

In the Inland Empire, the bicycle is barely regarded as form of transportation.
Look for the bike racks at your local strip mall. Most of the time, they don’t exist. Other times, you’ll find them hidden around the backside, often without a scratch on them. Next to restaurants and fast food joints, you’ll see three or four bikes chained to a pole, signs that there are people working inside who are not a part of the auto culture.

Even the very young live in parallel worlds. More often than not, they are forbidden to bicycle on the streets, or at least that’s how it seems. Children of the privileged are shuttled around in SUVs and told to keep off of main roads. Parents are summoned by cell phone, and curb-side pick-ups are the norm. A child pedaling within the confines of a cul-de-sac is a common sight, but to see a child bicycling freely along a main road is quite unusual.

The bicycle, however, is the ideal mode of transport for exploring the I.E. In an auto-centric environment, the bicycle proves more flexible when wandering through the many nooks, crannies, and back alleys. A steady speed can be maintained and one can stop and look whenever one wants. Harvard’s John Stilgoe explains:

Bicycling and walking offer unique entry into exploration itself. Landscape, the built environment, ordinary space that surrounds the adult explorer, is something not meant to be interpreted, to be read, to be understood. It is neither a museum gallery nor a television show. Unlike almost everything else to which adults turn their attention, the concatenation of natural and built form surrounding the explorer is fundamentally mysterious and often maddeningly complex.

The challenges for the car-less nomads are many, but these people know the I.E. on many levels. The I.E. is a region of holes, and the car-less nomads see the holes up close. The less-mobile roam the in-between spaces, often unnoticed but always present. These are the people of a slower pace. They’re the shadow of car culture and the other side of mobility.