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Promoting Cycling for Everyone in Baltimore

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Bicycles in Baltimore. Photo via Greater Baltimore Committee

Last month, Chris Merriam of Bikemore Inc., received a $60,000 grant from the Open Society Institute to promote biking in Baltimore, Maryland.

Bicycle advocacy groups exist across the country but what makes Bikemore special is their mission to help contribute to a more livable, healthy, accessible Baltimore by increasing the overall number of residents who ride a bike, advocating for the rights and safety of all communities in Baltimore and commitment to hold public officials accountable for improving the safety of riders across the city.

In my master’s thesis on deterrents to bicycling for women in New York City, I formed criticisms of certain bicycle advocacy organizations who have become self-congratulatory about their role in improving the conditions for bicyclists while, at the same time, failing to be inclusive of more diverse groups in their outreach, planning, organizing and data gathering processes. It made me wonder: do these groups want to improve bicycling conditions for those who are already avid bicyclists or do they want to increase the total number of people using bicycles overall? And if it’s the latter, what strategic steps are they taking to accomplish that goal?

In some cities across the country, bicycling and bicycle infrastructure (bicycle lanes, bicycle racks, etc) have become synonymous with gentrification and I think that’s because the communities where the new infrastructure is being laid down feel imposed upon and as though they were not a part of the planning process. Additionally, bicycling (which is often touted as being a universally inexpensive and convenient form of transportation) is sometimes perceived as a sport for the most privileged amongst us.  We must ask ourselves, who are our bicycling ambassadors (sport bicyclists, commuter bicyclists, bicycle messengers, cycle chic riders?) and is there diverse representation?

Bikemore wants to work to reach out to every neighborhood in Baltimore. They want all residents “across diverse cultures, races, income levels, genders, sexual orientations, political affiliations, and backgrounds– [to] feel they can cycle safely and confidently in every part of Baltimore, and that they have an important role in Bikemore.”

Bikemore’s mission statement appears to be rooted in inclusivity and I look forward to following their endeavors and learning more about their strategies for achieving this goal.

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Mexico City Residents Build Their Own Bicycle Infrastructure

Mexico City residents build their own bicycle lanes (Photo via This Big City

Mexico City residents build their own bicycle lanes. Photo via This Big City.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the National Network for Urban Cycling (BiciRed) has launched a campaign called “5% for the bicycles and pedestrians” to ask Mexico’s government to give at least 5% of the transportation budget to non-motorized infrastructure.
In light of the Institute’s request, community groups decided to raise awareness about the issue by building a 5 km (about three miles) designated bicycle lane. Advocates raised about a thousand dollars in four days to buy paint, brushes and build wood signs and stencils to build the bike lane, and on November 6th, 80 people (cycling advocates and citizens who heard about the idea through social media) showed up to begin working.
Mexico City residents build their own bicycle infrastructure (Photo via This Big City)

Mexico City residents build their own bicycle lanes. Photo via This Big City.

After eight hours the bicycle lane was completed. Jimena Veloz, one of the advocates who participated in the event asks: “How much would it cost to actually build the bicycle infrastructure the city needs?”
Mexico City residents come together to build much needed cycling infrastructure (Photo via This Big City)

Mexico City residents come together to build much needed cycling infrastructure. Photo via This Big City.

 

CicLAvia’s Play Street

One of my favorite events in Los Angeles is CicLAVia, a bi-annual event that closes around 10 miles of streets to cars, filling them with bicycles, food trucks and fun. And every year it is equally as amazing to see Los Angeles’ wide boulevards filled with bicycles and pedestrians enjoying the streets and experiencing Los Angeles in an entirely new way.

CicLAvia in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Anna Peccianti

CicLAvia in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Anna Peccianti

CicLAvia in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Anna Peccianti

CicLAvia in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Anna Peccianti

The origin of CicLAvia is Ciclovía from Bogotá, Colombia. Bogotá has inspired many innovative transportation planning projects here in the US but the idea of Ciclovía  or “open street” projects may be most popular. These projects can be truly transformative because they allow anyone to experience what our largest public space could be like if it prioritized people instead of cars. The Open Streets Project has created a comprehensive database of projects in almost every state in the country. From New York to Fargo to San Antonio, residents can enjoy lively open streets filled with the rush of people instead of cars

For October’s CicLAvia, some friends and I from the Living Streets Los Angeles volunteer committee, decided to take over a side street along the CicLAvia route in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and turn it in to a street filled with playful activities. Our inspiration for our play street came from the incredible work of urban planner and artist Candy Chang. Ms. Chang transforms public space through engaging participatory art projects that allow residents to use their imaginations to dream of what spaces can become.

One of her wonderful projects is offering fill-in-the-blank stickers that say “I Wish this Was…” which was inspired by community ideas for vacant storefronts in her adopted hometown of New Orleans. These stickers (which can be placed on any empty structure) offer a free, fun activity that allows residents to let their voices be heard and to openly discuss these ideas with friends and neighbors.
Examples from "I Wish this Was..." by Candy Chang. Photo via candychang.com

Examples from “I Wish this Was…” by Candy Chang. Photo via candychang.com

We decide to title our project: “I Wish This Street Was” and set up four cardboard triangles that allowed anyone to imagine what this space could become if it did not prioritize cars. The results were often funny, insightful, and delightful (see photos below). On our street, we featured an interactive workshop, a bicycle decoration station, painting (large cardboard boxes were turned into building facades), games (created with masking tape on the asphalt), and photo booths (also made from cardboard boxes). The entire project was put together for a very low-budget and relied mostly on volunteers and volunteer time and we were all very pleased with the results.
Check out the fun!
I Wish This Street Was presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets LA

“I Wish This Street Was…” presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Children design their ideal street at "I Wish This Street Was..." presented by Living Streets Los Angels at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets LA

Children design their ideal street at “I Wish This Street Was…” presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Photobooth fun at "I Wish This Street Was..." presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Photo booth fun at “I Wish This Street Was…” presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Children painting with their parents for "I Wish This Street Was..." presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Children painting with their parents for “I Wish This Street Was…” presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Photobooth fun during "I Wish This Street Was..." presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Photo booth fun during “I Wish This Street Was…” presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Community ideas about how to transform a street in Los Angles based on "I Wish This Was..." by Candy Chang. CicLAvia, Los Angeles. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Community members envision a new use for a street in Los Angeles (based on “I Wish This Was…” by Candy Chang). CicLAvia, Los Angeles. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles.

Community members envision a new use for a street in Los Angeles (based on "I Wish This Was..." by Candy Chang). CicLAvia, Los Angeles. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Community members envision a new use for a street in Los Angeles (based on “I Wish This Was…” by Candy Chang). CicLAvia, Los Angeles. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles.

Cardboard storefront facades painted by participants of "I Wish This Street Was..." presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Paintings by participants of “I Wish This Street Was…” presented by Living Streets Los Angeles at CicLAvia. Photo by Living Streets Los Angeles

Kansas City Residents Build Their Own Bike Sharing Network

Kansas City residents build their own bike sharing network. Photo via This Big City

Kansas City residents build their own bike sharing network. Photo via This Big City

Kansas City, Missouri has the highest ration of highway miles to city population in the country and also ranks last in bicycle and public transportation ridership in the nation. BikeWalkKC, a local bicycle advocacy group takes the approach, that if you don’t have the bicycle infrastructure you want, you build it yourself and they are asked local volunteers to help build a new bike sharing system for their city.

Volunteer labor not only reduces operational costs for the organization, but more important, BikeWalkKC is hoping that volunteers will become invested in the system they build and in turn, become advocates themselves.

Kansas City residents build their own bike sharing network. Photo via This Big City

Kansas City residents build their own bike sharing network. Photo via This Big City

Over a two-day period and with the support of local business and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, 75 dedicated volunteers assembled NINETY bikes for the new bike share system. The bikes will be ready for Kansas city on July 3rd and spread from the Market District to the north and the downtown areas of Union Station and Crown Center to the south.

Kansas City residents build their own bike sharing network. Photo via This Big City

Kansas City residents build their own bike sharing network. Photo via This Big City

Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade

Xela de la X shows the Ova’s signature sign. Photo by Rafael Cardenas via EastsiderWriter.com

While studying urban planning in graduate school I became fascinated with the sociology of public space. Why were some paces used more than others and why were some spaces perceived to be inclusive or exclusive by certain populations. During an internship in the New York City Department of Transportations innovative Office of Public Spaces, I began to understand that our streets were actually our largest public spaces and through public plazas for example, they had the ability to be transformed in to spaces that prioritized pedestrians instead of cars.

For my master’s thesis, I merged my interest in public space analysis, transportation planning and women’s studies by looking at what deters women to ride bicycles in New York City. Not unsurprisingly, motorist aggression and fear of personal safety were the greatest deterring factors for women but what surprised me were the limited opportunities encouraging those unfamiliar with riding a bicycle and the lack of attention to the needs of a wide variety of users in the design of our cycling infrastructure and facilities.

In spite of the ground that women have gained in the fight for equal rights, studies have show that women are more likely to run household errands and transport children and elderly family members. For some women, this can make their travel behavior and willingness to take risks different from that of a single rider traveling from Point A to Point B. Often, I look for examples of thoughtful cycling infrastructure  and the encouragement of bicycling to a wide variety of users (specifically women) so today I was ecstatic to read about the Ovarian-Pyscos, an East Los Angeles bicycle collective, in Los Angeles Streetsblog.

The Ovarian-Psycos Bicycle Brigade, an all-women bicycle collective from East Los Angeles, is not only supporting one another in cycling through the city and raising awareness about cyclists, they have become a powerful collective supporting women’s rights, social justice and each other.

The Ova’s gather before their Take Back the Night Ride. Photo by GLoTography via Streetsblog

From Los Angeles Streetsblog:

“Two months ago, when 22-year-old Bree’Anna Guzman was murdered in Lincoln Heights, the all-women bike group Ovarian-Pscyos Bicycle Brigade scrapped their previously planned ride to ride instead through the neighborhood to protest the killing.

‘Whose Streets,’ one woman called out.

‘Our Streets’ the more than 30 women riding answered.”

“Many of the women say they feel they are not taken seriously in the biking community because their rides aren’t as long as traditional rides, there are usually many first-time riders, and the ride will stop and wait for one person. But, these limitations, Ova member Natalie Fraire said, can be a positive.

‘We are encouraging a lot more riders and that’s more important, said Fraire.”

The Ova’s excel at inclusion. If you have any interest in learning how to ride, they will be there to support without judgement. This collective is strong, supportive, and has changed the lives of the women involved. Most importantly, it has given the Ova’s a sense of empowerment which all women richly deserve, cycling on the streets and beyond.