Talking Bike 2020
It’s not easy to be the face of bicycling in New York City, but with a community meeting on their calendar nearly every night, TransAlt organizers are often a stand-in for pedaling New Yorkers, helmet hair and all. It’s less about a community board vote on tomorrow’s bike lane, and more about the next generation of cyclists and the city they will inherit.
Reclaim convinced two of those indefatigable organizers, Kristen Miller, who represents TransAlt in Brooklyn, and Jaime Moncayo, who speaks for TransAlt in Queens, to take a break and chat with us about commuting, technology, the future of cycling, and their daily work to, as they put it, get more butts on bikes.
Kristen: I talk to people and I share information. My goal is always to help people realize what the problem is, and their power to reach solutions. Often that’s supporting them or pushing them to do things they may be nervous about.
Jaime: I think knowledge is the biggest obstacle to change. Most people who don’t like something in their neighborhood don’t know how to get involved. We can come in and say, “It’s good that you’re upset about this. There’s a meeting where you can affect it. Go!”
Kristen: Twice a year, we’ve been hosting a class to teach people about starting a campaign. We do a social media training, an anti-oppression training about intersectionality of issues. We explain the strategy of forming coalitions and mapping campaigns; picking who your target is, what your target cares about, who can make your target move.
During his campaign, Mayor de Blasio said that by 2020, 6 percent of all trips in New York City would be people riding bikes. Recently, he scaled that back to 3 percent. Any thoughts for the Mayor about how to get more New Yorkers to ride?
Kristen: It’s simple. You add more bike lanes. That’s the trick to getting people on their bikes. You just make it safer.
Jaime: Infrastructure in general is really powerful. I know tons of folks who would have never bought a bike but got on Citi Bike for example, because it’s convenient and cheap, or they felt safe to try riding because there was a protected bike lane. The expansion of these things affects so much. In every neighborhood the infrastructure extends to, that’s new people on bikes.
What role can technology play in introducing more New Yorkers to bicycling?
Jaime: The first time I biked into Manhattan, I figured out a route using Google Maps and then watched videos that people had made with GoPros on their helmets of them navigating that route. Immediately I felt I could do it because I could picture it. If you had a video of how to safely commute from Rego Park to Flushing on a bike, people would see they could do that. If you put those videos on Citi Bike stations, it would be eye opening.
Kristen: Especially with so many young people moving to the city, and new industries not necessarily centered in Manhattan, we’re more likely to go to work in our own boroughs. That alone will increase cycling when you don’t have as far to go, when biking is a lot faster than taking the train.
Are there barriers that keep people from riding bikes?
Jaime: I think it’s really important to ask people why they don’t bike, but understanding what that means in practical terms. For example, certain amenities stop existing when you go further out from Manhattan. Even something as simple as a lack of bike racks matters. Someone could tell you, “I would ride my bike anywhere, but where would I leave it?”
Kristen: Exactly. When someone points out that this is a city where there’s no significant bike storage, then you identify that as an infrastructure issue. If we want to increase biking, we should know why people aren’t biking. That means asking the right questions but also taking action on the answers.
Jaime: For most people, there’s probably not just one reason they don’t bike; it’s because the distance is too far and they’re worried about where they’re going to leave their bike and they don’t know how to carry stuff back home.
Kristen: The nature of the ride matters. Even if it’s short, a terrifying bike ride on terrible streets is enough to make you not want to ride. But you’d be willing to take a longer route if it was pleasant and safe.
Jaime: You encourage people to bike by showing, not telling. You see people running errands on a Citi Bike, and you realize you can do that, too. Start with shorter rides, a ride in your neighborhood, then a ride into a different neighborhood, and you slowly feel more comfortable.
So it’s bigger than bike lanes?
Jaime: Streets are public space, and a bike lane is one better use of space. It’s an opening of possibility, like “This space could be anything! Put a tree in there!”
Kristen: I try not to talk about bike lanes without talking about making streets more neighborly, slowing down the speed of cars, activating the space, bringing people out, encouraging more people to be active. Even if you come to TransAlt because you’re a die-hard cyclist, you’re going to realize there’s more to this than that.
Jaime: I had a really interesting conversation with an activist the other day about how a lot of our work is about giving people the opportunity to make their neighborhoods look how they want them to look. We talk about bike lanes, street crossings, expanded medians, bulb-outs and all of that, but it all points to the idea that this is your community and it should look however you want it to.
What can Reclaim readers do to help?
Jaime: You can, and you should, encourage people in your social circle to bike. That sounds really lame, but if you’re a TransAlt member and you ride, you are probably the best person in your friends’ lives to encourage them to get out of their car and ride a bike.
Kristen: Riding with your friends is a good way to help people feel in control about safety and danger. I still avoid roads in my neighborhood because when I first started to ride, people told me not to ride there.
Jaime: And don’t be snobs; help them. Just following someone through city streets can make a world of difference. Seeing how they navigate the intersections, you’re learning the best way to do things.
Kristen: Plus, of course, if you want your neighbors to ride, you should advocate for better conditions in your neighborhood. Ridership in neighborhoods with protected bike lane spikes because people want to ride in protected lanes.
Jaime: And know that we’re already winning. The bike wars are over. Between Kristen and me alone, right now we’ve got six active campaigns for new bike lanes. More support from folks making calls, going to meetings, tweeting, means we can stay that course.
2020 is only four years away. But what about 2040?
Jaime: No one bikes in 2040. We’re all on hoverboards.
Kristen: Also, they’ve cured helmet hair.
Jaime: I would love if in the future biking was like driving. Like you would never say, “I’m a driver.” In 2040, cycling is so normal that you don’t even identify as a cyclist.
Kristen: Also, there will be no more bike lanes. Instead, there are so many bikers and people walking on the roads that they’re setting the pace, and car drivers have to push a button when they want to cross the street.