As others (including Open City’s own Batul Abbas) have documented extensively, bike lanes in Chinatown have been contentious topics of debate. Along Grand Street, for example, business owners argue that the bike lane has made commerce harder, and run-ins between bicyclists and local pedestrians are commonplace all over the neighborhood. Some local officials have stated that the Allen/ Pike Street bike lane is the only one they will support. I have witnessed plenty of polite-but-frustrated bicyclists bewildered by the number of trucks parked in bike lanes, as well as bicyclists yelling at elderly Chinese-American pedestrians, “MOVE! THIS IS AMERICA!!” (Right, because Americans are renown the world over as lean, mean bicycling machines, shunning gas-guzzling cars and championing public transit instead.)
Among bicycling advocates, there are often disagreements on the extent to which community members should be part of planning process. Are more bike lanes inevitably better? Where should they be, and who will they ultimately benefit most? To tackle these questions in a more inclusive way, 9 local and citywide organizations have gotten together to form Local Spokes, a new Chinatown and Lower East Side biking coalition:
At the Local Spokes launch party I attended last week, at El Jardín de Paraíso on 5th Street, there were two children’s bike giveaways (one pictured below), drinks and barbecued food, lots of mingling and conversation, and information sessions in English, Mandarin, and Spanish.
The coalition’s nine member organizations are all committed to diverse, bike-friendly neighborhoods, with the idea that good policy-making inevitably involves substantive community input and participation. They are working together to help local residents and stakeholders get their voices heard in debates over bike lanes and local public spaces, and to broaden the range of folks who own bikes and get into the habit of bicycling around the city.
To these ends, their first initiative is a Youth Ambassadors program, which is currently hiring local English-, Mandarin-/ Cantonese-, and Spanish-speaking high school students to conduct outreach and facilitate community discussions on bicycling in the neighborhoods. (To apply to become a Youth Ambassador, fill out this application.)
Photos courtesy of Recycle-a-Bicycle (above) and Velo City (home page thumbnail).