El Monte and South El Monte are emblematic of inequity in the Valley. That’s where Active SGV’s executive director David Diaz is from. From his “frozen food” fueled childhood to being a new father there today, little has changed in the area’s streetscape. There are few neighborhood parks, an unreliable sidewalk system, and it’s still a dangerous place to commute on a bicycle.
After going to Rio Hondo College, Diaz became fixated on how the built environment he grew up in affected its residents’ health. The two cities are surrounded by three freeways, a dump, freight lines, a private airport, and a very busy Metro Bus hub. They do however have two notable bike paths – the 38 mile San Gabriel River Trail and the 17 mile Rio Hondo River Trail.
Overall, besides these two recreational paths, the SGV at large doesn’t have much cycling infrastructure. Active SGV is trying to change that by partnering with our cities to build greenways, bike lanes, and pedestrian walkways in majority minority communities. The non-profit began 10 years ago as a cycling group on Facebook, but over time it’s members expanded their focus from just mobility to environmentalism and public health.
A founding principle of what the organization is doing is equity for the Valley’s most marginalized. Diaz comes across totally sincere in that. This interview includes questions about the relationship of bike infrastructure to gentrification, what working class concerns over bikeways really are, and how power can be built at a grassroots level.
Special thanks to Boom California Journal for their interview with Diaz, which served as a background primer for this piece.
And to Kevin Greenspon for recording street ambience on Valley Boulevard from the back of his Fairdale bike.