One cannot help but notice them. These young adults ride in small packs, often on a variety of inexpensive bikes, all about Cape Cod. Like a flock of birds, they arrive on cue in early June.
They are seasonal workers, mostly from Eastern Europe and Africa, who keep the tourist economy going. On Cape Cod there are 4,000 of them from 59 different countries and the majority of them ride bikes for transportation.
And MassBike, working with MassDOT’s MassRides team, is working to keep them safe.
“There’s been shortage of mishaps and minor crashes, but most of them get around all summer long by bike,” explained Richard Fries, MassBike’s executive director. “Sadly we have had two fatalities involving these workers in the last few years.”
The U.S. Department of State, through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, created the Exchange Visitor Program which offers a J-1 Visa. Around 300,000 participants from more than 200 countries visit the U.S. each year.
In Massachusetts, Cape Cod has developed a strong program of sponsorship with many of the J-1 participants, working through the Summer Work Travel Program, taking seasonal jobs in food service and hospitality. This program enables young adults from foreign countries to visit America for four months, with three of those months spent working in a variety of jobs.
Unfortunately, many of those participants find themselves in a car-centric transportation network without a car. Too often they are found on busy highways well after sunset, when their shifts end in assorted restaurants and hotels.
“While we definitely talk about helmets, we believe lights and reflective materials are probably the most important component to their safety,” said Fries, noting that MassDOT and other groups have poured light sets and reflective straps into the hands and onto the bikes of these workers. “For many of these students English is a second language. We work on a basic curriculum and present it in a fashion that is somewhere between Sesame Street and an airline safety video.”
While motorist behaviors often plays a role in such crashes, many of those crashes could have been prevented had the cyclists employed some fundamental safety practices. The J-1 participants, however, often come from places with entirely different transportation design that is not so car-centric.
MassBike is looking to springboard off this program to develop a curriculum for low-income workers and students, many of which ride out of necessity, statewide.