The Power of Cycling to Build Community Cohesion and Healthier Cities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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The Power of Cycling to Build Community Cohesion and Healthier Cities

This is a summary of the Bike Culture Webinar Event held on World Bicycle Day, June 3, 2021 featuring speakers from Mexico City, Bogotá, and Chicago.

photo of Pha 'Tal Perkins leading the Roll N Peace Bike Ride

Think Outside Da Block

Pha 'Tal Perkins leads the Roll N Peace Ride

MPC’s June 3 Building Bike Culture webinar celebrating World Bicycle Day highlighted the power of cycling to address climate, equity, public health, and build community cohesion. Advocates from Chicago, Bogotá, and Mexico City shared their experiences during a conversation moderated by Lynda Lopez from the Active Transportation Alliance. The discussion highlighted efforts by these advocates in establishing policies that support biking and walking that can serve as an inspiration for organizations, cities, and individuals to prioritize active mobility. 

Pha’Tal Perkins, the founder of Think Outside Da Block,  a nonprofit that supports youth by developing productive activities in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, started the conversation by sharing the work his organization does to support neighborhood youth, particularly through group bike ride events. Roll N Peace is a unity bike ride that has been held twice each summer in the Englewood neighborhood since 2018. Perkins envisioned the event as an opportunity to bring individuals together regardless of ethnic background, gender, social status, age, or income, to form a sense of community through a common passion: a love for biking. Roll N Peace events “decrease violence by community presence, increase physical fitness with exercise and mobility and improve emotional, psychological and social well-being through intentional community engagement,” said Perkins.  

However, Perkins recounted challenges he has encountered with making neighborhood mobility improvements since Englewood is represented by five aldermen who hold differing views on bicycle policies. The result is inconsistent bicycle infrastructure that can vary from block to block, which detracts from a sense of safety and can deter residents from using bicycles for transportation. 

Public participation events such as Roll N Peace have been effective at getting new riders to try cycling and building community. At these group rides, “people who normally would not talk or see one another are in a place to have a conversation, to be able to meet and be in a relationship,” said Perkins. Ultimately the goal is to help people live a healthier lifestyle.  Information on future Roll N Peace events is on the Get Outside Da Block Facebook page. 

Next, Iván de la Lanza, Sustainable Urban Mobility Specialist from the Sur Institute in Mexico City, Mexico discussed challenges cities worldwide are facing, such as increasing urbanization, climate change, congestion, and the COVID-19 emergency. The fourth largest city in the world, Mexico City is seeing how prioritizing active transportation can help alleviate many urban challenges. Since transportation is the leading cause of urban air pollution de la Lanza argued that this a primary reason to promote walking and cycling as mobility options. Mexico City has  the overall benefits of the cycling network in Mexico City are estimated to exceed $65 million, more than six times the cost of the investment.  He also noted that “biking in Mexico City has been a powerful tool to build social participation and community engagement,” said de la Lanza. 

De la Lanza presented on future scenarios for urban mobility and their potential impacts. In 2050, if mobility patterns are consistent with current trends, private vehicle trips will increase in urban areas by 50% and urban congestion, climate change or impacts on urban air quality will not be addressed. De la Lanza noted, “active mobility is a fundamental element for sustainable mobility.”  He added that creating a safer mobility environment is critical, “the real pandemic we have been facing the last 20 years is that more than 1.3 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year going to work or school.”  

De la Lanza stated that active mobility creates sustainable environments and access to the city service and opportunities. Mobility can be a symbol of unequal access within cities as individuals have different access to jobs and additional resources located in their city center depending where they live. The potential is to use mobility as a lever to create increased equity of access to opportunity in cities. “Biking in Mexico City has been a powerful tool to build social participation and community engagement,” he said. 

A Bicycle Mobility Strategy was developed in Mexico City 15 years ago including culture and education, infrastructure and equipment, and a bike share system which connects individuals to opportunities through connections to the transit system. In Mexico City, many auto trips are short distances that would be appropriate for cycling. De la Lanza noted that according to the U.S. Household Travel Survey, nearly 60 percent of car trips in the U.S. are under 5 miles and have great potential to be shifted to biking.  

Next, Rodrigo Sandoval Araujo, the Chief Communications Officer for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Sports in Bogotá, Colombia, continued the conversation noting that Bogotá has been known for 45 years for its Cicloviá, where 128 kms of open streets are available throughout the city on Sundays and holidays. Ciclovia has helped build a culture supportive of cycling and now ten percent of commuters travel to work or school by bike in Bogotá. The country has implemented impressive national incentives for cycling: Every public parking lot has to dedicate at least 10% of the land for bikes. Public servants can apply for half paid day off every 30 times they commute to work by bike, and every new road project in Colombia has to include segregated infrastructure for bikes. 

This year, Bogotá created a bike policy documenting plans for bicycle infrastructure and education programs for the next ten years. Currently there is a network of more than 500 km of segregated bike lanes and 300 more will be built in the next five years. Other elements of the plan include  establishing a public school that concentrates on teaching individuals technical skills about bicycles, construction of new bike paths, research on cycling, establishment of new bike policies, and development of a public bike sharing program. Public agencies have worked to overcome sexist views about biking by providing a bike school that focuses on helping women of all ages learn to ride and helps build a community of cyclists.  The school instructed 30,000 students in 2020. 

By understanding the needs and concerns of community members and building social participation, programs such as Bogotá’s new Bike Public Policy or events like Think Outside Da Block’s Roll N Peace invite all members of the community to enjoy their streets using active transportation. We need to “get people on bikes and then begin to facilitate those conversations on how to keep them on bikes,” said Perkins. MPC thanks sponsors Divvy and HDR for their support of this event. To hear the event recording visit this link.

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