Meet the Bike It! Santa Ana Dream Team
By Melissa Balmer. Images by Allan Crawford.
Above from left: Mirabel Mateo, Tony Gattica and Lynnete Guzman of the Bike It! Santa Ana project of KidWorks ride on Edinger Ave., where their protected bike lane will be created.
Young people in Orange County are getting tired of the region’s lack of bike-friendliness. Happily, riding on Edinger Avenue in Santa Ana, from the Santa Ana River Trail to Bristol Street (a section of street that connects eight schools), will be a much safer experience beginning in 2017. That’s when the protected bike lane project spearheaded by enterprising youth at the nonprofit KidWorks, in collaboration with the City of Santa Ana’s Public Works Department, is projected to be completed. Just last month, the youth-led project was awarded $2.3 million in grant funding by the California Transportation Commission to make it a reality.
The new protected lane won’t arrive a minute too soon. According to a profile of the youth in the Orange County Register in November, the KidWorks grant application documented the 12 bicycle collisions and 8 pedestrian collisions that occurred on the 1.7-mile stretch of KidWorks’ bike lane project between January 2011 and May 2015. In July, a 13-year-old girl riding her bicycle was struck and killed by a Santa Ana Unified School District employee driving a work truck.
Last month, CalBike had the pleasure of connecting with Lynnete Guzman, the Community Coordinator at Kidworks, who oversaw the project.
CalBike: In 2012, KidWorks was awarded a two-year Safe Routes to School grant for a project focused on youth development, service learning, and health-promoting environmental change within the Building Healthy Community (BHC) Zone’s of the California Endowment.
In the first year, the project focused on walkability, but during the process the youths’ interest shifted instead to wanting to improve bikeability. How did this happen?
Lynnete Guzman: The youth became interested in improving bikeability in their neighborhoods because they faced challenges everyday while biking to school, to KidWorks, to their friends’ houses, or to the store. Some of the youth came from families who could not afford a car nor had access to one, and biking was their main mode of transportation. Biking was also an easier way to get youth together and have fun. A core group of about 4 youth became interested in learning more about Complete Streets policies and design concepts. From there, they developed their campaign now known as Bike It! Santa Ana at KidWorks.
CalBike: Tell us more about Maribel Mateo (now 18) and Tony Gatica (now 15) who led this new focus. Had they both been part of your overall Kidworks program for some time already? Had they already shown leadership skills?
LG: Maribel has been part of the Youth Empowerment Network program at KidWorks for about the last 4 years. When the program first started, she and other youth were learning from the city’s private consultant team on how to conduct walkability assessments in her neighborhoods. She was trained so that she could be a trainer and teach other youth and adult residents. She recruited her brother Tony to come learn and he has since been part of our program for the past 3 ½ years. Through their involvement at KidWorks, Maribel and Tony learned about community organizing for policy systems change to promote a better quality of life for Central Santa Ana residents. The two of them became core leaders of the Bike It! Santa Ana campaign and spearheaded the development of the relevant advocacy projects. They improved their leadership skills in community engagement efforts, public speaking, data collection, and more.
CalBike: The work the youth did as Bike It! Santa Ana to identify opportunities for the augmentation of safer bicycle infrastructure was a very hands-on process. The youth worked directly with the City of Santa Ana’s Public Works department and their contractors, including a bike survey, geographic information systems (GIS) mapping, and videography.
What part of the process did the kids enjoy the most, and which was the most challenging?
LG: The youth really enjoyed creating and editing the Video Voice, which portrayed fun clips of our group bike rides and events. The challenging part was learning the editing software by ourselves and dealing with the unexpected technical glitches.
Tony enjoyed interviewing people during the process of collecting community surveys. This was an opportunity to get to know the people who bike Santa Ana and introduce them on our work. Many people were very appreciative of our efforts.
One of the young people’s favorite projects was learning how to use geographic information systems (GIS) to map our communities and the benefits of bicycle infrastructure. It was an interactive way to teach youth about geography, statistics, and science
CalBike: Was applying for Active Transportation funds for improving walking and or biking infrastructure a part of the original Safe Routes program grant? Or did the idea to apply for this new grant happen during the switch to focusing on safer bikeability?
LG: During the two-year partnership with OC Health Care Agency the team collected all the quantitative and qualitative data necessary to complete the Bikability Assessment. The assessment included data analysis, maps and pictures. After the two-year grant partnership with OC Healthy Care Agency ended, the youth began preparing a presentation to share their data with key stakeholders and residents. In a presentation with city staff, the youth were invited to submit the ATP cycle 2 grant with the city for a bike lane project on Edinger Ave. The city staff was impressed by the data they collected, and the amount of knowledge the youth had in the relevant fields. Because the youth had collected all the information necessary to submit a grant proposal, the city felt that the youth were ready to learn how to write a grant and secure funding for their proposed project.
CalBike: Am I correct that even though the youth decided to focus their Active Transportation grant application on one specific area – Edinger Ave.from the Santa Ana River Trail to Bristol St.- they had also done safer bikeability assessment work on two other areas that the City of Santa Ana was also able to receive grant funding for?
LG: The Bikability Assessment focused on the need to improve infrastructure in Central Santa Ana, the BHC zone, and home to the majority of youth at KidWorks. The assessment includes recommendations for implementation of 3 bike lanes in the city that will most benefit the community in terms of safety, population access, and connectivity to schools, parks and public resources. One of the bike lane proposals, Willits/Bishop St, received funding through the ATP cycle 1 grant. The second bike lane proposal, Santa Ana Blvd, was advocated for implementation by the youth during community input for the Downtown Santa Ana Complete Streets Plan. The city took it upon themselves to secure funding for the bike lanes proposed in the plan. The third bike lane proposal, was Edinger Ave, and it was not part of any current plan for implementation or funding.
CalBike: This is such an inspiring story for youth everywhere to learn that their voice can matter if they’re committed enough and will do both the homework and the legwork. What’s next for Maribel and Tony, and what’s next for you at Kidworks in your safer bikeability vision?
LG: Maribel is now in her first semester of college at Cal State Fullerton, and plans to study civil engineering. Tony is a sophomore in high school, and also plans to pursue a career in civil engineering. The two have fulfilled higher responsibilities as core leaders throughout the years.
We are currently focused on engaging new youth who will take a lead role in the advocacy efforts necessary to improve bikeability in Santa Ana.