Richmond organizations whip up bicycle fever with two-day event

Richmond’s Lincoln Elementary School playground and parking lot were turned into a Bike Fiesta Saturday, with scores of neighborhood bike riders and dozens of bicycling enthusiasts from throughout the city coming out to celebrate cycling. It was mild mayhem as bike-riding youngsters careened, sometimes on wobbly wheels, around the school grounds dodging bystanders and each other.  There were areas to get bikes repaired, the county health department and the Richmond Police Department handed out free helmets, the police department set up an obstacle course to teach bike safety, and there were pedal-powered rides and free smoothies blended by pedal power.

The event was the second in a two-day celebration of biking in Richmond put on by Fix the Cycle, a collaboration between a number of city and county agencies and non-profits including the Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative, the Contra Costa Interfaith Sponsoring Community Organization, the police department, county mental health services and Richmond Spokes, an entrepreneurship training program for young people.  Fix the Cycle aims to encourage bicycling in Richmond and educate people about the health benefits of safe bike riding.

On Friday, Fix the Cycle put on a celebration of the life and accomplishments of Marshal “Major” Taylor at the Nevin Community Center.  Taylor was a turn of the century African-American cyclist whose story is largely unknown, despite the fact that he was hailed as the fastest man in the world by his contemporaries and won the 1899 one-mile track cycling world championship.

Raymond Neuman, a therapist who heads up the county health department’s West County Child and Adolescent Services, said Major Taylor is a forgotten hero whose endeavors are relevant today. “Major Taylor is an inspiration.  What he accomplished is just coming out and we feel he can be an inspiration to young people.  He had to overcome overwhelming challenges without any support and he triumphed,” said Neuman.

Richmond City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles was at the Saturday event. Though she says she doesn’t ride much these days, she is quick to sing the praises of bicycling.  She said the city is working to address barriers to biking in Richmond with a bike and pedestrian plan that would build out bike lanes and designate pedestrian zones to make it a safe and practical means of transportation.

“The city is making plans with the bike and pedestrian plan to make this city walkable and bikeable,” said Beckles.  “Being healthy environmentally and physically is a way to a better community, and so that’s what we’re doing.”

Gabino Arredondo of the city’s planning department said that collaborations like Fix the Cycle brought together organizations—like county mental health services and the Literacy for Every Adult Program—that aren’t usually associated with bicycling because the health benefits of biking as part of an overall healthy lifestyle extend beyond it’s convenience as a mode of travel. But he said that they have to reach out to communities like the Iron Triangle, where it may not be convenient or safe to bike.  “We want to try to increase participation and access to bicycling for people of color.”

Arredondo said the event was a success, and that Fix the Cycle plans to make it an annual event.

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