Transportation Alternatives Campaign: Reclaim New York City Streets with Bicycling, Walking and Public Transit

Posted Feb. 19, 2014

MP3 Interview with Jill Guidera, field organizing coordinator with Transportation Alternatives, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

transportation

The annual national Youth Bike Summit took place at the New School University in New York City Feb. 14-16. There, hundreds of teens, young adults and older supporters came together to hear a keynote speaker, an African American bike racer describe his adventures; to attend workshops; create bike-themed clothing and jewelry; and more importantly, to network and learn from each other.

One of the activities at the Summit was a Political Action Center, which guided participants through the steps necessary to organize their own campaign for better transportation. The Political Action workshop was sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, one of the most active transportation organizations in New York City, whose mission is "to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile, and to advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives."

Between the Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Jill Guidera, field organizing coordinator with Transportation Alternatives, or TA. Here she describes some of the campaigns her group work on, and how they build alliances to reach out to new communities and become more effective advocates.

JILL GUIDERA: We organize around 14 campaigns every year – between two and four in each borough of NYC. These campaigns are based on needs assessment and community demand from our borough-based activist committees. We then look at what their ideas are and help them formulate short-term and long-term campaigns to transform their boroughs. I work very closely to help facilitate the Bronx activists committee, where we are looking to see car-free Sundays reinstated on the Grand Concourse, a redesign of the Concourse, as well as bike-friendly Belmont and improvements on Westchester Avenue. I also work at TA to organize our field staff, who are NYC bike ambassadors, who are hourly field organizers who pound the pavement to make sure we have the critical support needed to make all these campaigns happen.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And could you tell me what the opportunity is at this workshop for people at this Youth Bike Summit to do some kind of political campaigns?

JILL GUIDERA: Yes. So, this is our second year running our political action center at the Youth Bike Summit, and we absolutely love doing it. A lot of what I do as an organizer is talk to people around NYC about what they want to see and finding concrete ways to actually voice that to their decisionmakers – their local politicians, their community boards – to make sure those things happen. Doing this at the Youth Bike Summit is kind of instilling that idea, that you can be the one to instigate political change in your own neighborhoods. So at the Political Action Center, we're inviting youth to write down what their big ideas are; if they could change anything in their neighborhood, what would they change? It can be as big and out there or as concrete and simple as they like, and from there we can offer very clear tactics that we can walk them through right here on the spot about how they would organize their community to make that happen. We actually look up their decisionmakers, help them formulate language to create a petition, write a letter, or create a photo petition.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And have these been successful, have you had successes around bike-related issues in the city?

JILL GUIDERA: From the Youth Bike Summit or our work...?

BETWEEN THE LINES: Well, all your work, but if there's anything to say about the Bike Summit, too.

JILL GUIDERA: I will say about the Bike Summit is that we make connections with people that have lasted. I don't know if you talked to my intern, Alisha Bunting, but I actually met her last year at the Youth Bike Summit, talked to her about ideas that she wanted to see in her neighborhood in Canarsie, and she had some great ones. We exchanged information and then she joined more formally our internship program. She did a really outstanding job there and then became a part-time staffer at our organization and continues to do really great work. So it's these relationships that are built here are able to become more long-term and lasting, and then are able to open up ideas about how to be involved at a professional level on these issues.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And what about more broadly, the things that TA has worked on?

JILL GUIDERA: TA has worked on a lot! As I mentioned, we have 14 campaigns running across NYC. In the past year, we have won a great handful of campaigns. We saw better infrastructure on the approach to the 59th or Queensboro Bridge and that was bike and pedestrian infrastructure actually installed.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Let me just interrupt you for a second to say that the one and only time I did the 5 Borough Bike ride, it was the year that somebody was coming off that bridge and smashed into a jersey barrier and died. So I think you need better infrastructure.

JILL GUIDERA: Yes, it's critical, and often it's great tragedies like that that can often point where we want to do our work. For example, we're doing a lot of work this year on Vision Zero, which is looking at zero traffic deaths across the city, and are organizing forums in every borough around that. And there's been a ton of momentum around that. In South Brooklyn, we have community leaders on every level who are looking to host that forum in the next couple of months, and that was a campaign we worked very hard on, and are seeing that success translate across the city.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And wasn't one of the first things the new mayor, Bill DeBlasio, took a stand on was Vision Zero, wasn't it?

JILL GUIDERA: Yeah, that was a really great moment for us to see the work we've been doing on the ground translate into his campaign, but then also into his statements as our new mayor, so I think we're kind of in this big watershed moment to see these things happen.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And since I interrupted you, if there's any other different kinds of successes you want to talk about, that would be great too.

JILL GUIDERA: Yeah, we saw the northernmost bike infrastructure installed in NYC this past year. That's in the Bronx running east-west across 222nd Street and into Coop City, so several communities that had been isolated from the rest of the city who didn't have calm streets and sidewalks or bike lanes to get around their neighborhoods and connect to the rest of the city now had this connection. That was a big win for us in the past year. Also seeing plans for a separate bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge, which connects Queens and Brooklyn, was another big win we saw this year, and helped us grow our committees and then build that momentum towards next year.

For more information about Transportation Alternatives, visit transalt.org.

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