Bike to China Program Update: Chinatown Tour with Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez!

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By Kyle Tsukahira

On Wednesday, July 17th the Bike to China youth had the opportunity to lead their State Assemblymember, Jimmy Gomez, on a tour of Chinatown, one of nine cities represented in the 51st assembly district.  This youth led tour focused on highlighting not only the concerns of the Chinatown community but also recommendations for the changes they want to see take place in the area.

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The 3 mile bike tour began at the Chinatown Metro Gold Line station and continued to Union Station off of Alameda Street (see point A on the map).  Kevin Tang (pictured below) led a discussion with Assemblymember Gomez about Union Station which is a particularly historic location because prior to its construction it was actually the site of the original Chinatown community in Los Angeles.  As is too often the case, immigrant and low income communities of color are often forced out of areas simply because they lack the political and economic means to fight back.  This is why it is so vital to ensure there are culturally and linguistically sensitive avenues for community members to engage their local representatives.  Many residents in Chinatown are either monolingual or speak English as their second language.  The youth feel that civic participation is critical in order to make Chinatown a better place to live.

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The tour continued to the L.A. Historic Park where Dat Tran and Mabel Chan (pictured below) led a discussion about air quality, pollution, and L.A. historic park restoration/usage with the Assemblymember (see point B on the map).  Chinatown is located in the midst of some of L.A.’s busiest freeways with the 101 to the South, the 110 to the West, and the 5 to the East.  Many people use the local streets in Chinatown to not only get to the freeways but also avoid the morning and evening rush hour traffic.  In addition, Chinatown is host to a warehouse district where many large freight trucks leave their engines on idle throughout the day.  To make matters worse, many of the Los Angeles Unified School Distrcit’s (LAUSD) and Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s (LADOT) buses use areas in Chinatown as a parking lot.  All of these factors combined contribute to high levels of air pollution, especially ultrafine particulate matter (which has been linked to various lung and chronic diseases).  Community members in Chinatown and across the city of Los Angeles have the right to know not only what they are breathing in but how these pollutants are affecting their health and the health of their families.

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The next stop took the group to the corner of Caesar Chavez and North Bunker Hill Ave. (see point C on the map).  Kevin Tang led a discussion on the incoming Walmart that is currently under construction in Chinatown.  The Walmart construction site has been an issue of great controversy in the city of L.A. with many labor and community organizations (including AFL-CIO and CCED[SC1] ) vehemently opposed to the construction.  Walmart claims that Chinatown is a food desert and they simply want to provide access to produce that the community lacks.  However, what Walmart fails to acknowledge is that there are already several grocery stores and small mom and pop businesses that will be severely impacted by the presence of Walmart.  Walmart knows all too well that if they are able to successfully establish a foothold in the city of L.A. they can begin to expand to locations across the city.

The group then rode down Caesar Chavez to the Golden Dragon Gate entrance of Chinatown on Caesar Chavez and Broadway (see point D on the map).  Amy Zhang brought up the issue of gentrification that is taking place in Chinatown with corporations like Starbucks and upscale condo apartments being build in the area.  Gentrification has been an ongoing issue in Chinatown and after the youth visited areas such as Long Beach and Little Tokyo, they noticed new bicycle infrastructure and transit-oriented development led to a huge rise in property values and the subsequent displacement of low-income people of color.  The youth want to create a healthier and safer community but at the same time want to be sensitive to the fact that the area is a predominately low-income working class community.  Therefore, the need for affordable housing and support of small business is essential.  Positive changes such as implementation of bicycle friendly infrastructure and more effective public transit should not cause the displacement of existing communities but rather enhance the lives of the folks living in the area.

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The final stop was at Alpine Park (see point E on the map) where Kevin Liao (pictured above) asked Assemblymember Gomez for support to increase investment in bicycle infrastructure in Chinatown.  Riding a bicycle in Chinatown is extremely dangerous because bicycle friendly infrastructure is nonexistent in the area.  As was mentioned earlier, many people use the streets in Chinatown as thoroughfares and traffic speeds can reach as high as 45-50 miles per hour.  This is not conducive to promoting a safe walking and cycling environment.  The youth believe that the implementation of bicycle lanes, bicycle locking stations, traffic calming measures, and street beautification can encourage community members to walk or bike instead of drive.  Promoting a more walkable and bikeable community not only encourages physical activity but will also limit harmful carbon emissions from vehicles.

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The tour concluded back at the Metro station in Chinatown.  APIOPA is extremely grateful and thankful that Assemblymember Gomez and his amazing staff members, Stephanie Wong and Aaron, took the time out of their busy schedule to join the Bike to China youth on a tour of the community.  These youth are the up and coming leaders who can continue to not only give a voice to folks in the area but also fight for positive changes which can turn Chinatown into a stronger more vibrant community.  The youth want to find more ways to be involved and are currently staying in close contact with Assemblymember Gomez’s office to form a Chinatown youth council which can work with elected officials to see that the concerns and voices of the Chinatown community are heard.

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It has become painfully clear that current urban plans and designs of many cities in L.A. are not suitable for sustainable and healthy living.  The good news is there are many ways in which we can fix these problems if we have the patience and commitment to do so.  The time for change is now.  For more information please visit: http://www.apiopa.org/programs/bike-to-china/.

If you are interested in joining the 2013 Bike to China group on our very last 66 mile marathon ride on Saturday, August, 3rd please contact Kyle Tsukahira (BTC Program Coordinator) at ktsukahira@apiopa.org.  Also, be sure to check out the amazing youth blogs here at: http://www.apiopa.org/category/bike-to-china/.

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