While racing down the interstate or jogging through the streets of Pasadena, road users may catch glimpses of roadside memorials, fading into hindsight just as quickly as they came into view.
These memorials often commemorate those who lost their lives on the road, honoring drivers and pedestrians alike. When cyclists Jocelyn Young, Alan Deane, and Philip O’Neill were killed on their bikes in Pasadena in 2013, locals had had enough.
The Pasadena branch of the Complete Streets Coalition (PCSC) was established on July 1, 2013, calling upon the city to implement a Bicycle Plan to ensure the safety of road users and achieve “complete” or all-inclusive streets as their first order of business. This year, in the face of a pandemic and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, the PCSC is working to incorporate current events into its agenda.
The PCSC frequently organizes community events for cyclists and walkers, but when COVID-19 broke out earlier this year, the coalition had to proceed with some accommodations.
“When COVID happened, it was around the same time that Bike Week was happening,” PCSC volunteer Topher Mathers said. “People still wanted to get outside and be active, so we were able to partner with the organization Day One and the city to promote a local educational program through Instagram that taught people how to safely ride their bikes during the pandemic.”
As an admin of the official PCSC Instagram account, Mathers took to the app to spread information. Posts featured on the page encourage citizens to “ride local, ride solo” and wear masks, and even offer alternative bike routes to those closed due to the virus. With many businesses shut down, the account encourages biking and walking to pass the time, preaching that “the journey is more important than the destination.”
The group continues to demand change from the city amid the pandemic, calling for “touch-free” crosswalks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and open neighborhood streets to allow for more social distancing among bikers and pedestrians.
The coronavirus is not the only current event shaping the PCSC’s agenda this year, as members have come together to support the ongoing Black Lives Matter Movement through the coalition as well. The group partnered with the NAACP to organize an Evening Ride for Black Lives Matter to demand police oversight in Pasadena and honor recent victims of police brutality, which took place on August 22. According to Mathers, the organization took the opportunity to reflect on racial issues within their own movement.
“Vision Zero is a policy that L.A. has adopted that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities, and a big part of it relies on officers giving out tickets for speeding and other violations when appropriate,” Mathers said. “There’s an acknowledgment within the advocacy community that the system is very problematic, as a lot of the incidents that we see where black men are killed, not only in Pasadena, but throughout the country, start off as a traffic enforcement interaction that escalates. Then someone gets shot for not using a turning signal.”
The Pasadena City Council voted in favor of civilian police oversight on August 24. The PCSC took to Instagram to celebrate the feat, reminding followers that “the fight to dismantle systemic racism continues.”
Those looking to combine a passion for the outdoors with local activism can do so with the PCSC. Since founding members Blair Miller, Wesley Reutimann, Candace Seu, and Gene Wester kickstarted the coalition, it has brought in volunteers from throughout the city who continue to work towards safer streets.
Mathers got involved with the group after being hit while riding his bike on several occasions. He was also affected when a local child was killed while crossing the street with his family and a roadside memorial was placed alongside Mathers’s daily commute.
“Everytime it was his birthday or the anniversary of his death, there would be flowers and teddy bears left by that light post,” Mathers said. “That stuck with me. The first CSC meeting I went to, his family was there and they talked about what happened. That’s when I decided to volunteer with the group.”
Other volunteers were drawn to the organization because, like Mathers, they rely on active transportation in their day to day life.
“As someone who used bus transit and walking as my main modes of transportation growing up in Pasadena, I joined PCSC because I felt like they cared about my transportation experience,” volunteer and Steering Committee member Jazmine De La Torre said. “I personally admire their drive to give time and effort to make equitable improvements to active transportation issues in our community.”
The PCSC is keeping busy, as they prepare to host their annual Walktober events as well as a program entitled Project Wheelie that is currently underway. Project Wheelie offers free, basic bike repairs to Pasadena residents, focusing on low income workers and families who have been impacted by COVID-19. The program will also include a bike match, in which bicycles are donated by community members, repaired by volunteers, and matched to a Pasadena resident in need.
Those who want to learn more about the coalition’s current and upcoming events can visit the PCSC website or @PasadenaCSC on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“Our main focus is getting the city to enact policies that prevent people from getting hurt when they’re using our streets,” Mathers said. “The goal is for our streets to be safe for all road users, whether you’re walking, biking, on a scooter, or even in a car.”
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