TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

A world without cars: Bike advocates challenge car-centric cities

in Urban Planning & Policy by

As the use of cars grow, transportation alternatives become imminent.

Los Angeles spent $1.6 billion in 2014 to widen the 405 Freeway. The goal was to unclog the most congested interstate in the US. It did not work.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic looks like a steeled inch worm on a late morning weekday. Hours after the morning rush and some time before the late afternoon dash home, cars still crawl along the 405.

Between fumes and combustion, the heat against the highway heightens under a merciless desert sun. This is an everyday reality for a commuter, even outside of traditionally high traffic times.

Los Angeles is just one city dealing with a high population of people, and an overpopulation of vehicles. Since automobiles have become a major machine in transportation, problems persist in the world’s metropolises to create an environment for those who move in urban spaces.

Last week, bicycle advocates explored the idea of rethinking urban planning that prioritizes cycling commuters. The meetup gathered the filmmaker of BIKES vs CARS, Frederik Gertten, and organizers in the NYC metro area to talk about transportation after a film screening.

Hosted by nationwide bike-centered meetup, Draft, and Black Kids in Outer Space, a multimedia editorial organization covering transportation, environment, and urban planning policy for people of the African diaspora, the event took place in Newark, one of the most unsafe places for cyclists and pedestrians in the country.

Lark Lo facilitates a panel discussion with L-R Dulcie Canton, Frederic Gretten, Sergio Rodrigues and Patrick Conlon.

According to Sergio Rodrigues, a member of Brick City Bike Collective and Safe Streets Newark, a popular thoroughfare running from Newark’s airport to Clifton, McCarter Highway, has the highest death rate for pedestrians.

“If we build safe infrastructure for everyone then we can get around. We have to build a space that is equitable and safe,” said Rodrigues.

Currently, Newark is rapidly changing through multiple redevelopment efforts that are renovating a city that was left neglected after a four-day civil unrest in 1967 that left 26 people dead and hundreds. Owners of commercial real estate in the downtown area shuttered their buildings, while many refused to sale or lease spaces.

As the cities deteriorated, so did the city’s most traveled corridors. Now with gentrification underway, questions emerge around reconstructing streets to accommodate the changes in Newark’s landscape.

“There’s a saying in urban planning and transportation engineering. It called ‘white roads through black bedrooms,’” said Lark Lo of Black Kids in Outer Space. “The reason why the streets in the cities in urban areas are unsafe is to accommodate white people in suburbia. We must prevent that kind of thing that is happening [in Newark] where we’re going to make it safe here in the urban center where white people with more money are moving to, but then make it more dangerous in the suburbs where people of color and poor people are being displaced to.”

Dulcie Canton, a Brooklyn organizer for transportation alternatives, thinks that better transit must include affordable housing. She commented, “I’m a dinosaur now in New York City. I was born and raised in the Bronx, but I’ve been living in Bedstuy for six years, but Bedstuy, back in the day, we saw a lot of white flight. Now it’s the reverse.”

Filmmarker Gertten called for the need to create bike highways. For him, the bike thoroughfares encourage more bike users and provides better lane systems for people to commute with longer distances. “It’s also about shopping local too,” he explained.

The overall sentiment by panelists was to gut urban planning that favors vehicles. Lo continues the conversation tonight in NYC at the A.J. Muste Building with Bike Public Project and Black Space.

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