Weekend Ride: El Monte

Our day began by meeting at the Linde Activities Center (LAC) to grab a quick bite to eat; we then biked down to Claremont’s Metrolink station. While we waited for the train, we coincidentally ran into John Trendler of the Pomona Valley Bicycle Coalition! We brought our bikes into the “Bicycle Car,” noted with a big yellow sign.  After about half an hour on the train, we got off at El Monte, where we were met by John Lloyd, a history professor and bike activist from Cal Poly Pomona, Amy Wong from Bike San Gabriel Valley and Dan Strich a Mudd Alumni who generously gave a gift to HMC to help sponsor our class. We were also met by Peter Weinberger, the Editor-in-Chief of the Claremont Courier, who agreed to operate a drone with a video camera that would follow us throughout the day while we biked.  After our introductions, Amy and Dan explained where we would be riding, and we were off!

Our first stop was at Arceo Park, a park across the street from a number of community centers and civic buildings.  Amy and John gave us some background about El Monte, and told us that the bike path that we were riding on was El Monte’s only bike path—that they only recently got.  They explained that El Monte has high rates of diabetes, and the freeway runs right through their city, which creates high levels of pollution. It’s a city with a lot of invisible cyclists, and Amy and John emphasized the importance of the social justice aspect of bike infrastructure, making sure that bike activisits are keeping everyone’s interests in mind.

 

Amy told us that the number of annual bike rides in El Monte rivals that of downtown LA, but they haven’t had a lot of bike activism until recently.  We learned that the city council passed complete streets in 2014, and it was with help from activism from the youth in high school who made a video (that can be found here https://www.facebook.com/DOElMonte/videos/351993171647997/?fref=nf), and the city council was impressed and voted to pass complete streets.

 

Next, we rode to the El Monte Bus Station.  The station had a number of art pieces and places to lock bikes up, but there was no connectivity between their bike lane and the bus station, even though the station is accessed by bike all the time. John told us that originally there weren’t even signs to the bike paths on the river that we later rode on, but that activists had to ask for signage. From the bus station, we rode on the Rio Hondo Bike Path along the river. We passed some Transit Oriented Development Housing, housing that encourages people to use the public transportation around them, and rode past some industrial buildings, as well as the San Gabriel Valley Regional Airport.  When we got off the bike path, we rode to the Jeff Seymour Family Center, a repurposed elementary school, which is now home to a number of non-profits based in El Monte. We went in to speak with a number of incredible people from Bike San Gabriel Valley (Bike SGV).  We sat down with Wes Reutimann, Monica Curial, David Diaz, John Lloyd, Cesar Roldan, Javier Hernandez, Amy Wong, and Andrew Yip.  They all spoke about why they were invested in bringing bicycling to the center of attention in an effort to improve bicycle infrastructure, and you could tell how passionate they are about the work they’re doing.

 

While they had different backgrounds and reasons they got into their line of work, they all had one common goal.  I found it interesting that many of the speakers came from a background of public health, and many of them spoke about the importance of using an interdisciplinary approach to help bring attention to biking. More people will listen if it’s a matter of public health than that of sustainability, and so many people are set in their ways of sitting in their cars.  Monica also pointed out that a lot of effort goes into what they do, and some of it may seem tedious, but when it comes down to it, some of this stuff like traffic studies are really important. Many of them grew up in the LA area, and left to go somewhere less car-dependent, and came back and were shocked by how car-centric it is here.  Another theme that continually came up again and again was the social justice aspect of bike advocacy. This was another issue that they all spoke passionately about, and it was really inspiring hearing how dedicated they are to this issue.

 

After wrapping up our conversation, we stopped by Bike SGV’s bike shop, where they lead educational bike information sessions, and have tools that anyone can use to come in and fix up their personal bikes. After that, we were led on a bike ride by Andrew and Amy.  They first took us to Peck Conservation Park, and then rode along the San Gabriel River.  It was a windy ride, but we had this class one bike lane all to ourselves.  We were riding toward the mountains, and although there were a number of highways not too far away, it didn’t feel like we were in LA. It was really nice to feel as though we were out of the city, and it was really cool to learn about these bike lanes—I definitely want to try to get back there sometime soon.  After turning off of the bike lane, we rode to the train station and said goodbye to Amy and Andrew, but got to hear about a number of upcoming events that they’re organizing. I hope to go to 626 Golden Streets, an event where they close down the streets near the Gold Line between Pasadena and Azusa this Summer.  It sounds like an incredible opportunity to see the streets closed to cars and get to see alternate uses for the streets. Once the train arrived, we loaded our bikes into the bicycle car on the Metrolink, and headed back to Claremont, after a day well spent.

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