SAN FRANCISCO — “Bike to Work Day,” an annual event promoting bicycling for everyday transportation and held on May 15 this year, will resonate in the Asian Pacific American community for a number of cultural reasons.
Concern for the environment and over-dependence on cars have become critical issues around the globe. The promotion of bicycling as a part of the solution is relevant not only in Beijing, but also among the Chinese community in San Francisco.
Amy Chan, a second-generation Chinese American who recently started commuting by bike in San Francisco, said, “Even though my life may be very different from those living in China, our reasons for biking are not that different.”
Over the past few decades, the number of cars on the streets has steadily increased throughout China as automobile ownership has become a symbol of success and affluence in the wake of the country’s strong economic growth. Beijing, once known as a global center of bicycling, has seen the numbers of cyclists exponentially decline as more room is made for automobiles.
However, in the past two years, the Chinese government has worked to turn these numbers around and reclaim Beijing as a bicycling city. Qui Baoxing, vice-minister with the Ministry of Construction in Beijing, recently spoke to local Chinese media on the importance of keeping Beijing a “kingdom of bicycles.” Abandoned bike lanes throughout the city also have been approved for reconstruction.
Efforts to reverse the trend toward car dependency and lessen the climate impact have become paramount for government officials in the U.S. and abroad. Events such as “Bike to Work Day” promote alternative transit and counter prevailing cultural attitudes that car ownership is a symbol of prosperity and success.
Global environmental causes are not the only reason Asian Americans participate in “Bike to Work Day.” For many, bicycles provide a freedom to travel around the city that they may not have had. Bert Hill, who teaches bicycle education classes in San Francisco, noted that his most recent basic safety course for cycling novices was almost completely comprised of Asian women between the ages of 30 and 50.
Hill thinks the high turnout among Asian American women is due in part to the feeling that bicycles give these women independence to travel throughout San Francisco without a male escort. One student in Hill’s biking class, a middle-aged Eastern Indian woman, actually shed tears after the class. “She had felt separated from her family in San Francisco,” Hill said. “Now, she felt she could do things with her family that she couldn’t do before.”
“‘Bike to Work Day’ is a great event to show that not everyone on bicycles are young, white, male, bike messengers,” says Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an 8,500-member nonprofit agency. “There is greater and greater diversity among the bicycle commuting population in they Bay Area as more people realize the benefits of biking.”
Chan added, “Biking is a way to connect with people in my community that I would never have interacted with before. I experience the city at a biking pace, and I discover places and recognize people I never would have noticed from inside a car.”
This year, “Bike to Work Day” — organized by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in collaboration with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and local government agencies — is expected to draw more than 100,000 participants. The biking movement has grown steadily over the past decade, and today 16 percent of San Franciscans, or 120,000 residents, use bikes as a mode of transportation at least once a week.
“Bike to Work Day” events include free bike education classes for adults, cultural history bike tours, Bike Doctor sessions to fix up older bikes, and lots of social events to meet more bicyclists. “Energizer Stations” throughout San Francisco and the region will distribute coffee, juice, bagels, and other “fuel” to power pedaling commuters during the morning and evening rush hours, along with tips for safer, better cycling. Those new to bike commuting in San Francisco may contact the Bike Coalition to be matched with an experienced Bike Buddy who can show you the ropes.
Joy Yu is a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
For more information about “Bike to Work Day” events throughout May, visit sfbike.org/btwd. For bike education and riding classes in English and in Cantonese, see sfbike.org/edu.