Youth Leader Reflections: A PASSing Grade for our Safe Routes to Parks Event!
My name is Jaime Flores, and having recently graduated from Golden Valley High School in Bakersfield, California, I am on my way to UC Santa Cruz later this summer. For the past three years, I have been a youth volunteer for Greenfield Walking Group, a non- profit organization established in Bakersfield. Advocating for safe routes to parks and schools has inspired me to continue fighting for safety improvements in my community.
My interest in active transportation and park access began when I first entered high school. Quite surprisingly typical teen issues like acne seemed insignificant in comparison to the issues my Greenfield community faced: families and children feel unsafe walking neighborhood streets due to high speed traffic, not to mention the large sidewalk gaps that forced kids to walk in the street. For these reasons, I have advocated with the Greenfield Walking Group to secure the safety improvements we deserve.
In late 2018, in partnership with Cal Walks, Greenfield Walking Group found an opportunity to continue to advance safety in our community. We applied for and were awarded a $12,500 grant from the Safe Routes Partnership. The grant provided us with resources to create a safe routes to parks plan. Taking inspiration from our travels to San Jose for the PedsCount! Summit where we saw green bike lanes for the first time and experienced first-hand how easy it was to walk and bike in Downtown San Jose, the youth leaders were determined to bring an event to Greenfield to show our friends, neighbors, and most importantly, the City and County what could be possible to make walking and biking to parks easier, safer, and more inviting. Alongside my fellow youth leaders, we planned a Parks And School Safety (PASS) Event at Stiern Park, where we installed a temporary bike lane, high-visibility crosswalk, and more park amenities. Planning the event wasn’t easy but using everything we heard from neighbors of the park and what we, as youth, want to see in our park, we made our PASS event a fun one!
We hosted a color run to demonstrate the need to complete the walking path inside Stiern Park; volleyball and soccer activities to promote more park amenities; and a temporary crosswalk and protected bike lanes to demonstrate how much safer and inviting walking and biking to the park could be. The event was a huge success with our community! Our color run and colorful decorations really caught everyone’s attention—even children put away from their cell phones to be active and engaged in the event. The green bike lane and the high-visibility crosswalk were the highlight of the event. Our youth group had a lot of fun painting onto tar paper and placing it on the street. These temporary demonstrations showed how quickly a small change could greatly increase accessibility to the park and allowed people to experience first-hand the change that’s possible and critical to the safety of people walking and biking.
The crosswalk connecting the park to the residential area were effective at slowing down drivers who usually speed. We even observed drivers becoming more aware of people walking and would check both ways before merging onto the main street.
The bike lanes provided space and safety to bicyclists and prevented conflicts between drivers and bicyclists. Bike Bakersfield also provided a mini-bike rodeo to encourage more people to bike and to teach children the rules of the road.
Although the event was a celebration, the Greenfield Walking Group made sure community voices were heard. We gathered surveys to document the types of amenities and accessibility priorities community members wanted so we could share it back with the City planners. Additionally, we talked about the process of organizing the event and made sure to inform the community of possible projects that could use their support. These pieces helped bring the event back to our main objective of creating safe routes to parks. Not only was the event fun for community but they also all actively participated in voicing their opinions on how to improve the park and community.
The experience of hosting the event has taught me that most things require patience and perseverance because these two traits were critical to the event’s success. The endless hunt for the permits caused a lot of grief and headaches, but we kept our heads high in order to make the event a reality. These characteristics are what I hope to carry on in my future studies at the UC Santa Cruz. Additionally, I want to continue giving back and helping my community, which is why I hope that we can host another celebration or clean-up at two additional parks, Rexland Acres and Greenfield Park. We hope our community has a positive reaction to our work and are excited to see how our work improves the parks and City of Bakersfield.