Open City: Blogging Urban Change
New Chinatown Biking Coalition: Local Spokes
By Celina Su


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:

Asian Americans for Equality
Good Old Lower East Side
Green Map System
Hester Street Collaborative
Times Up!
Transportation Alternatives
Two Bridges Neighborhood Council
Velo City

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).

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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