Day 1: Bikes, trains, ferries, oh my!
The Youth Bike Summit began with an inspiring keynote from Joelle Galatan, a youth bike educator and Queens cycling activist for special needs youth and adults, and NYC Council Member Antonio Reynoso who shared his experience advancing progressive policies that address inequality throughout NYC, while working to better the quality of life for residents within his district. He challenges residents to think about how “bike lanes can be the beginning of equitable access to transportation,” and asked the audience what they are doing to engage people who have been historically left out of “bike culture.” Antonio established himself as a staunch advocate for his community and proponent of bold legislation rooted in equity. Transportation issues have remained a priority for Antonio, and he has been an outspoken leader in the push for NYC to embrace and encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation.
After a long day at the conference, the delegation members explored Harlem, Manhattan, and Brooklyn on foot and by train. The young people learned to navigate the complex train system, sometimes getting a little lost along the way, and experienced what it was like to get around a city without needing a car. The group even took the ferry to Staten Island to take in the views of the city and the Statue of Liberty.
Day 2: Dreaming big and challenging the status quo
Nearly 500 youth from all over the country came together to talk “bicycle cities of the future.” They brainstormed their vision for their cities and what it means to be a bike-friendly city and presented their poster to the entire conference. The South Tucson Delegation, along with new friends from Portland, Maine brainstormed so many great ideas including: creating earn-a-bike programs; organizing more community bike rides; re-defining “bike culture” and changing the narrative of who rides bikes; advocating for protected bike lanes; envisioning more bike mechanic shops on the south side; and even hosting a local bike summit in Tucson!
One of the highlights during the visioning session was when a young leader from Portland, Maine got up on stage to share her personal experience of the community-bike ride planned during the first day of YBS. She said that although she may be small and quiet, she wanted to share a story with everyone. In her own gentle, yet powerful words, she brought attention to how bike share systems do not meet the needs of 8-year old riders like herself and shared that her feelings were hurt when she was not able to participate in the group ride because they didn’t have a bike for her. This young leader called out the summit organizers, bringing up a very important issue of inclusivity and accessibility to everyone’s attention. Taking the conference attendees by surprise, her brave words served as a striking reminder of the importance of planning our cities and transportation systems for everyone including 8 year-olds and 80 year-olds!
After the two day conference, the group had a blast, exploring as much as they could of the city including: Central Park, the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Memorial, the HighLine, the Brooklyn Bridge, Harlem Music Hall, the Natural History Museum, China Town, the Apollo Theater, and of course Times Square.
Bringing it back home
For all the young leaders, this was an opportunity to step out of the comfort zone and connect with their peers from other cities who are using bikes as a tool for responding to the needs of their community. One young person wanted to gain new perspectives on how bikes can be used to create positive change in the community and how to get involved to make that change happen. After the conference, one of the delegation members shared, “It’s not just a bike program. It’s a program that can support, understand, and motivate the ‘little voices’ [youth].” Several delegation members came home, inspired to start their own bike programs, lead bike rides for families in their communities, and get more young people on bikes!