Ask Brian: Diversifying the Faces of Bicycle Advocacy

Thanks to everyone who came out with questions for our member party in August. We received way more questions than I could answer in the time allotted, and not everyone could make it that night. So I wanted to offer everyone my answers to your questions here.

Hearing from members is one of my top priorities, and it’s something I genuinely enjoy. To that end, I am also taking this opportunity to announce “office hours” once a month in each Supervisorial District, starting in District 1 this month. I look forward to seeing you at Velo Rouge Cafe on Arguello on Thursday, Oct. 27 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Richmond folks! In the meantime, please keep your questions coming to info@sfbike.org. Let’s make this just the start of a conversation about how all of us can make your SF Bicycle Coalition and our city stronger together. Now, on to answering one of them…

Many members, including Melyssa Mendoza, asked how we plan to diversify our movement.

Our membership is strong and steadily growing, but we know it could better represent people who bike and live in SF. As a gay, white man in my 30s, my experience biking in SF is very different from a black or brown man biking in SF, women of any color, seniors and families. Not making assumptions is the first step, and we have to intentionally make space for other voices. Our movement for human-centered streets must do a better job of this nationally, and I want SF to be leaders on that.

We hosted an event on Aug. 16 where we enjoyed hearing a panel of women of color who are leaders in our field explore this crucial issue, moderated by our Advocacy Director Janice Li. Since then, I’ve been reflecting on something that panelist Tamika Butler, the executive director of the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition said at that panel: “Our work is not about commutes. It’s about communities.”

That’s such an important point to remember about this work. It’s not just that we’re fighting for protected bike lanes in every neighborhood of San Francisco. We’re working with communities to help realize their vision for their streets, and advocating for public spaces that are healthy, welcoming and enjoyable for everyone. We don’t promote the bicycle for everyday transportation for the sake of bicycles; we do it for the welfare of all people who live, work and play in San Francisco.

That’s the idea behind our Community Bike Builds program, where we accept unclaimed bikes from City agencies, refurbish them and work with community-based organizations to give those bikes to people who need them. So far this year, we’ve given over 150 people the freedom and joy of biking in the Excelsior, the Bayview, the Tenderloin and Chinatown. This is especially important work with so many people under dire financial pressures, and with transportation the second-highest household expense in San Francisco after housing itself.

We can always do more to meet community members where they are at, though, and listen to ideas for improving conditions in their communities. We need to offer more resources in languages other than English, for instance. We need to work to see that bike share’s expansion in San Francisco meets the needs of all people, with respect to station placement and accessibility for unbanked and low-income folks.

Other ways that we might grow the strength and diversity of our movement include exploring low-income SF Bicycle Coalition membership for families, seniors, students and low-income households, and specifically encouraging women and people of color to apply for jobs and run for our board. (By the way, we’re hiring, and our next board election is just around the corner!)

Part of  working for a member-driven organization is also acknowledging that I do not have all of the answers. So, as I said, I hope this is just the beginning of a conversation. Please send your ideas and questions to info@sfbike.org and, if you live in or near District 1, come by Velo Rouge Cafe on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 27. I look forward to hearing from you.

Members of the SF Bicycle Coalition make it possible to improve the safety or our streets and health of communities across San Francisco. If you’re not yet a member, please support our advocacy for human-centered streets and join today.

Become a member and you'll improve your commute and get discounts at shops across the city.