Those types of partnerships and solutions are blossoming across the continent.
The Future of the Movement
Standing at the podium of the Youth Bike Summit, wearing a shy but eager smile, Alpha Barry proudly professed: “I’m a student, a bike mechanic, a bike rider and an advocate.”
Growing up in a small village in Guinea, a nation on Africa’s west coast, Barry said, “Only two families in the village owned a car, and even a bicycle was a treasure.” Rather than looking forward to a driver’s license, Barry longed to apprentice in a bike shop, which intoxicated him with the scent of “grease, oil and hard work.” As a teenager, Barry’s bicycle dream came true – more than 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) away, in New York City, NY.
As a student at Brooklyn International High School, Barry got an internship at Recycle-A-Bicycle, where he built and learned to maintain his own bike. For 10 months, he worked with area officials on the planning and development of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway – a 14-mile (23-kilometer) multi-use path that passes through a number of multi-cultural communities – and took his first trip to Washington, DC, for the National Bike Summit.
For Barry, the bicycle became more than a means of transportation. “I see everything around me in a new way, as if everything has come to life and everything is suddenly possible,” he said.
Thanks, in part, to organizations like Recycle-A-Bicycle, the next generation of cyclists will likely look more like Alpha Barry than the past archetype of the affluent, spandex-wearing white male. The growing community bike shop movement is widening the movement by providing free or low-cost bicycles to youth and adults in exchange for their time and energy. Traditional advocacy groups are more often – and more effectively – outreaching to diverse neighborhoods, too.
Since the inception of the Major Taylor program, Ewing and Cascade Bicycle Club have provided bicycles, education and programming to more than 430 students at some of the city’s most diverse schools. The LACBC is just one of many advocacy groups that have created Spanish-language literature and education classes. In the US capital, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association started a new effort in a predominantly African-American community “East of the Anacostia,” where bicycle infrastructure and outreach have been virtually nonexistent.
Making those efforts successful, though, depends on not just evangelizing the merits of bike lanes, but “building genuine relationships for the sake of building relationships,” Taylor said. It also means understanding community needs and concerns. “What if we can make bike lanes a strategy for increasing safety?” Taylor asked. “What if bike lanes become a solution to connectivity, decreasing these communities’ isolation from an economic and social standpoint?”
Progress through Leadership
Encouraging more adults to ride is a multi-faceted equation. Taylor believes bicycle education can play a key role – especially if the teacher is from the same community as the student. This year, Taylor is working with the League of American Bicyclists to certify 75 African-Americans as League Cycling Instructors who can be ambassadors, role models and champions for biking in their communities.
Especially for new immigrants, not understanding the rules of the road can curb the desire to commute by bike. Angel Chen, who moved to Toronto, from Taiwan, said in her home country bicyclists are more akin to pedestrians than cars, so sidewalk riding was common. In Canada, that’s largely illegal.
Programs like the newcomer cycling program helped Chen and Teo by providing resources, such as route planning and mentorship. “The Toronto Cyclist Handbook, which explains safety tips and the rules of the road in Toronto, was published in English and in 16 other languages,” Teo said. “Safety and other cycling-related workshops were also held at community hubs, other settlement agencies, libraries and schools. There is also this unique program called the Bike Host Circle where volunteer cyclist mentors are matched with newcomer ‘mentees’ to get them familiar with the city through cycling.”
While riding to work may eliminate costs for gas and transit, Nannette Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican cyclist in Des Moines, IA, said cost may be a deterrent for some potential bike commuters. “A large impediment for emerging populations in the US to adopt cycling is the perception that there’s a large investment that needs to be made in equipment,” she said. “Here in Des Moines, we have the Des Moines Bicycle Collective, which restores and repairs bicycles and sells them very economically, or trades volunteer work for bikes. Collectives like this need to be promoted to emerging populations, preferably in their language.”