Morgan M. Hurley | Uptown Assistant Editor
A grassroots effort makes its way through the streets of Uptown
While bicycle lobbyists and local government officials iron out all the details regarding the impending Uptown Bicycle Corridor, two local women are taking matters into their own hands, building community and spreading awareness about bicycle safety along the way.
One day last April, Veronica Medina, a City Heights resident, had a big dilemma: With her car on the fritz, she had to find an alternative means to work.
“I realized I had to ride my bike all the way to Hillcrest,” she said. “I was so scared to ride my bike by myself. I thought if I reached out to the community it would help.”
Medina took to social media and found a group on Facebook called “Bike on University Ave.”
She quickly drafted a post, looking for others commuting along University between City Heights and Hillcrest who might be interested in establishing a “bike train.”
The response Medina got was better than expected. Within no time, a planning committee of interested riders was formed. Shortly after their first meeting, Medina recruited the help of her friend Sandra Pimentel, another bicyclist. They launched a Facebook page called “SD Bike Train” and began discussing specific routes. Within 10 days, the inaugural “SD Bike Train” was on the road.
As a main corridor of Uptown, University Avenue runs approximately 10 miles from La Mesa in East County to Mission Hills, and has long been deemed an unsafe roadway for bicyclists. Until the proposed changes regarding bicycle infrastructure along University Avenue take place, commuters either tough it out or find alternative routes to make their way across town.
With Bike Train, an alternative now exists.
“There is a need for people to feel safe when they are commuting,” Medina said. “We’ve been asked, ‘Why University? Can we go on Howard … or Orange?’ We made a decision; we want to be visible and we want to have the most direct route to get to wherever we need to go instead of going out of our way and feel safe doing so.”
The first ride took place April 22 and started at 7:45 a.m. in City Heights, ending at the Old Town Trolley Station, with multiple stops along the way. It corresponded with Earth Day, which was a Tuesday, but subsequent rides have been shifted to Fridays.
Aimed at both recreational and commuter bicycle enthusiasts, SD Bike Train participants are now instructed to meet every Friday at designated points along University Avenue and ride together, single file or side-by-side.
The Facebook page, which outlines the routes and shares other information, now boasts 188 members, and the number of riders has steadily increased every Friday since that inaugural ride.
The primary route remains University Avenue, which starts at 7 a.m. in City Heights and moves west, but recently another route, to take riders from North Park to Downtown, was established starting at University Avenue and 30th Street. More routes are in the works.
Though most of the members were total strangers wanting to build community with other bicycle riders, some, like Ken Eby-Gomez, was already a friend of Medina’s.
“I have two jobs that are both in City Heights,” he said. “I like to join in anyway to help build some momentum, but also because it is pretty fun to ride with friends that early.”
Both a bike mechanic and teacher, Eby-Gomez said he is one of the organizers of Bikes Del Pueblo, a local bicycle collective aimed at self-sufficiency. He said being involved in SD Bike Train has broadened his perspective.
“It’s given me knew insights about what organizing for livability in neighborhoods might look like, how reaching out to residents can look, and how to find solutions to common needs,” he said.
For Pimentel, who came from Long Beach where a much more advanced bicycle infrastructure is in place, SD Bike Train was sorely needed.
“This project for me means more bicycle visibility, that means getting more cyclist on the road, riding to work, school, grocery store etc.,” Pementel said. “It is a great way to have people try commuting on their bikes, in a safe group environment, and also lets drivers see that bicycles will be sharing the road with them, so they can be more alert to cyclists.”
Organizers haven’t formally reached out to the local bicycle coalitions and other organizations — although word about the Bike Train is rolling out fast — and they’re not sure they will. They prefer to keep it as a community building experience.
“This is by cyclists for cyclists,” Medina said. “It’s very grassroots and it builds a sense of community. Sometimes people come just to talk to other cyclists. On our first Downtown route, some people went to work, others went to grab coffee.
“I understand there’s different organizations … but I think there really is something to be said when the actual community gets involved and says ‘hey let’s get together and make this happen,’” she said.
What Pimentel and Medina are doing is listening to feedback from members in their group, asking for suggestions and making everyone feel they have a say in things as their little movement expands and adapts. The sky seems to be the limit with SD Bike Train.
“I see the Bike Train growing, we have started a Facebook, we’re working on a website and looking to add more routes,” Pimentel said. “This is all because there is a need for us to do so. The outreach from the not only the bicycle community, but the motorists, has been great.”
For more information on SD Bike Train, visit Facebook.com/SDBikeTrain.