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Why I Ride #15: To EmPOWer All Riders

(Helen Ho is the co-founder of POW! People on Wheels and the Development Director for Recycle-A-Bicycle, in New York City.)

Helen Ho

I learned to ride my bike, like most New York City kids, on the sidewalk with my mom running up and down the street next to me. My first bike was a pink Ross with white flowers on the banana seat. My pink bike and I had some good times rolling up and down the sidewalk, but we were never allowed to cross the street because it was too dangerous.

Actually, a lot of things were dangerous for us in the neighborhood, so I spent a lot of time indoors watching TV and eating snacks. Not surprisingly, I was a chunky kid.

Picture a fat Asian kid with a perm and coke bottle glasses. That’s me.

Twenty years later, as an adult, I happened to stumble upon a group of bike advocates and for the first time allowed myself to “cross the street” with my bike. It’s totally scary the first time because you don’t really know what to expect. I gathered up all my courage one day in 2007 and rode my bike five miles to work from Astoria to Flushing, Queens. What a liberating feeling it is to propel yourself to your destination!

I took that same route many times and started to notice things — most notably that I was the only woman cycling on the road. There were lots of other men; men in spandex, men in suits, deliverymen; but curiously no women.

Then I starting going to bike meetings and events and noticed that I was frequently the only minority in the room and that no deliverymen ever came to our meetings.

I have met several others who share this same experience. During a visioning session at the 2nd Annual Youth Bike Summit (which was inspired by the National Bike Summit 2010!) on the third day, we were envisioning the future. I was in the diversity group. Someone mentioned that diversity was a topic that was frequently talked in the bicycle advocacy movement about but rarely did anything happen past the point of conversation. I can see why if there are other priorities in an organization whose mission is not explicitly about diversity. Also that people of color and immigrants and deliverymen may be a harder group of folks to reach for existing advocates.

But then I thought that it should be *someone’s* priority.

We all had to go around in a circle and say an “I will…” statement.  Before fully realizing the impact of the words, I said, “I will start a minority bike coalition.”

While that statement was made just a few months back, I’ve since found some friends, advocates and students to form a new group called POW! which stands for People On Wheels. We’ve had a few meetings and decided that we would be a project-based group looking to expand the universe of cycling advocates to engage more women, minority and delivery cyclists in NYC.

POW!’s first foray will be a storytelling project, taking portraits of cyclists and celebrating the cyclists, who are often ignored by pedestrians, cars and even each other. We further seek to engage workers, residents, and commuters on a grassroots, local level to create a safe space so that women, minorities, immigrants and working cyclists can share their thoughts and ideas about how cycling, the neighborhood, and the street impacts their day to day life. Whether working with the underserved communities of Roosevelt Ave in Queens or the East New York neighborhood in Brooklyn, we seek to envision a more inclusive future for all cyclists and identify local resources to fill the gaps and support that vision.

We seek to create a dynamic, replicable model that can be integrated into cities across the U.S. Join us, “cross the street” and expand your cycling universes too!  In the end, more advocates equals more voices to champion cycling and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

We hope to bring what we will learn from this process to the National Bike Summit 2013. See you there! POW!

May is National Bike Month and this year’s theme is One Ride, Many Reasons. To highlight and celebrate the many benefits of bicycling, throughout May we’ll bring you the personal reflections and inspirations of a diverse collection of bicyclists from coast to coast with our daily 31 Days, 31 Reasons blog feature.


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