Map to reimagine bicycling in south L.A. released by USC Annenberg and community partnership

A new map developed by USC Annenberg faculty and researchers, along with community organizers, is the first of its kind – designed with the input of residents and organizers to encourage biking in South LA while highlighting social justice.

The Watts Ride Map Project is launching Sunday, April 15, at 10:15 the South Hub of the CicLAvia route, in front of the African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Ave. Project leaders invite the public to join with community organizations advocating for South LA, healthy living and social justice, as they celebrate and distribute the map that guides bikers to the iconic Watts Towers.

The map is freely available online at Download the print version, or read testimonials and more:

The partners behind the map point to a broad social agenda – from city planning to bicycle and social change advocacy. Core partners include T.R.U.S.T. South LA, C.I.C.L.E., Bikerowave, the East Side Riders Bike Club and CicLAvia.

“Social change with maps only happens if they are integrated into the community’s storytelling network,” said project researcher and USC Annenberg student George Villanueva.  Storytelling must go “beyond media organizations, and include residents and community-based organizations,” he said.

Data for the map was gathered live during the January test ride through the ParTour mobile platform (  High-tech features included iPads mounted to roving bikes to monitor incoming pictures.  Low-tech was equally important.  “We support basic cell phones -- anything that can take pictures,” said Professor François Bar of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, which advised the project on technology.  “Our final map builds on the dozens of geo-coded photos cyclists sent during the ride, and their comments about what makes the neighborhood special.”

“Our goal is to reveal some of the South L.A. features that local residents enjoy all the time, but are hidden to potential visitors,” said Tafarai Bayne, a community organizer with T.R.U.S.T. South LA.  “Many people are surprised to learn that you can bike from the Watts Towers to the beautifully restored wetlands at Augustus Hawkins Park, all in South L.A.”  

The map’s route was tested with 60 cyclists, including a stop with the East Side Riders (ESR).  One rider had a boombox installed on the back of his bike which augmented the group’s ride with music.  “Bicycle diplomacy is emerging as a way for communities to connect,“ said John Jones, who co-directs ESR in South LA.   Cyclists came from all over the city, from Silver Lake to Long Beach and West Los Angeles. “What starts as a fun ride can also be a source of pride, a chance to meet new people, and a way to learn community activism.”

For the print version, a professional designer turned the stream of pictures into a custom map.  “Alongside map making, we feature pictures taken by residents, to create a narrative of the ride,” insisted the map’s designer, Colleen Corcoran, who also designs the CicLAvia graphics.  “To be authentic, we developed the map content in workshops with community organizers, researchers and neighborhood residents.”

Taking pictures has civic importance.  “The future of LA depends on seeing the present differently,” said researcher and USC Annenberg student Benjamin Stokes. “Riders with a camera see things differently – from store signs, to corner shops – even things they’ve passed many times before.  Community mapping is part of looking for the future.” 

The map also encourages riders to “get involved,” and provides instructions for requesting bike racks from the city, mobilizing your network, and joining campaigns for change.  The companion website,, allows cyclists and residents to submit additional pictures, and gives more detail on how to take action.  The website and print map are designed to interrelate, with each form supporting the other. “Online distribution may be cheap, but paper distribution is often necessary to engage at the street level,” notes team member Otto Khera.

The mapping approach and technology comes from the ParTour project at USC Annenberg, which is a joint effort of the school’s Mobile Lab -- led by Bar, who is a communication professor – and the Metamorphosis project, which studies changing urban communities under Professor Sandra Ball-Rokeach.

The underlying technology builds on tools previously deployed through Mobile Voices, which allow anyone with a camera phone to send photos via text message to a computer that places the photos on a map, based on either GPS data or location information entered by hand.

Bar and the rest of the team asked cyclists to take photos of anything they found interesting, which ranged from mosaics in Metro stations and dolphin statues in front yards, to neighborhood stores and scenes of the parade of bikes.

Moving forward, the team hopes to create additional maps, continue refining and distributing the maps they’ve created, and continue to engage the South LA community. The maps will be available in print and online, following the Mobile Voices model. In that project, after stories were published online, the team printed them in a newspaper that could be distributed in labor centers and on street corners for those who don’t have Internet access.

Photos and videos from the January ride