Bike to Whereever Day: A Pivot from BTWD, Celebrating Some Progress

KidsBTWD
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Bay Area advocates refused to give up on Bike to Work Day, which usually takes place in May every year and usually involves a rousing day celebrating everyone on bikes with free coffee, snacks, and goodies and post-work parties. But that was in a different era. In 2020, the event was postponed until September, hoping things would be more “normal” by now. Then it was redubbed Bike to Wherever Day, because so many people are still working from home.

Yesterday’s event , hosted by the various bike coalitions in San Francisco, Marin, East Bay, and San Jose, was much quieter than usual.

There were still pop-up booths along popular bike routes to distribute free bags (pre-printed last December, when life was relatively innocent) and to sign up new members, but no morning Energizer Stations with snacks and cowbells, no gatherings, no Bike Away from Work Parties.

One of Bike East Bay’s pop-ups was at Tip-Top Bicycle Shop on Telegraph Avenue, where the brand new parking-protected bike lanes are lined by a growing number of new parklets for nearby restaurants and bars to create a lively scene. Some of the people who stopped by to pick up bags were brand new to riding – one said he had started riding when he saw the new road diet and bike lanes. Some were local residents who bring their children on bikes through the quiet nearby streets and on to the new Telegraph bike lane, no longer fearful that the area is too dangerous for the little ones to ride in.

Image: Cynthia Armour
Image: Cynthia Armour

The parklets filled up as the day progressed, which meant riding the bike lane was a slow meander through the crowd, passing busy waiters and even hands holding phones reaching way out into the lane to take selfies of the people enjoying yesterday’s stunning Bay Area weather.

Another pop-up was set up at the Crucible along Seventh in West Oakland, where some riders stopped by to pick up BTWD bags as well as free food from a neighborhood mutual aid station. That route out of downtown, while well-used now by bike riders, is rough, with bad pavement, faded lane markings, and no space marked for bikes. But the city plans will make it better, according to Bike East Bay’s Robert Prinz, who ran that station, if the city can get the funding. Eventually, Seventh will be repaved with protected bike lanes and protected intersections.

 

Rich City Rides passed out free goodie bags in Richmond. Image: Bike East Bay
Rich City Rides passed out free goodie bags in Richmond. Image: Bike East Bay

 

For some, Bike to Wherever meant a ride to the beach, or the park, or with their dog, just to get away from work, maybe, and enjoy the weather.

Silicon Valley Bike Coalition is celebrating Bike to Wherever days, which includes an ongoing challenge for residents to log their bike miles and compete for prizes.

They are also hosting a booth tomorrow along the Guadalupe River bike path to pass out bags.

As a long-time bike rider in California – mostly but not exclusively in the Bay Area and L.A. and S.F Bay areas – I am sometimes amazed when taking stock of how these events have changed over the years. Also, of how riding has changed. I used to stick closely to certain routes that I knew would bring me quickly, relatively safely, and with relatively little stress to where ever I was going. Usually that meant studying a map like the early East Bay Bike Coalition’s painstaking efforts to map out the least stressful, least car-traffic-heavy routes possible. It meant sticking to quiet side streets, and sometimes taking circuitous routes to stay away from the main roads where most destinations are. The last piece, arriving where I wanted to be, could mean taking a sidewalk, or going the wrong way down a street, or walking the last bit.

But that is changing in many areas. Now more main streets have bike lanes on them, more routes are marked, more signals can detect bikes, more drivers expect to see people on bikes. When you get a facility like the new, much-fought-over road diet with parking-protected bike lanes along Telegraph Avenue – pictured below – a bike rider feels downright welcome, on a road that used to be a nightmare to be avoided (and meant maybe going somewhere else to shop).

New parking-protected bike lanes on Telegraph Ave in Temescal. Image: Bike East Bay
New parking-protected bike lanes on Telegraph Ave in Temescal. Image: Bike East Bay

I’m not saying it’s perfect. Too many places still serve only cars, and the safety concerns of a white lady like me are not the same things Black and brown riders are worried about – highlighted by the timing of this BTWD, coming on the day after the announcement that Breonna Taylor’s killers would not be charged.

Much, much more remains to be done.

In downtown Oakland, a vigil for black and brown victims of police violence. Image: Melanie Curry
In downtown Oakland, a vigil for Black and brown victims of police violence. Image: Melanie Curry

But events like these are a fabulous way of both celebrating the hard-fought changes we have seen and of reminding everyone why better facilities are important and necessary. The advocates who work to make Bike to Work Day, and CicLAvia, and San Gabriel Golden Streets, and the Modesto Bike Rollouts successful are doing fabulous work that we all benefit from. It’s well worth everyone’s while to join and support their local bike advocacy group, so we can have more of this.

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