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Richmond resident promotes safety

Rich City Rides provides bicycle repair, education on safer riding, participation in city laws that

Published: Friday, December 13, 2013

Updated: Friday, December 13, 2013 17:12


Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

Rich City Rides member Najari Smith works on a bike at the temporary space of Bridges Art Space in Richmond on Dec. 4. Rich City Rides is pushing for change within the city of Richmond to provide a safer place for people to ride their bicycles.

RICHMOND — Tucked away in the northwestern corner of Bridges Art Space is the Richmond City Rides temporary bicycle repair shop.

Utilizing an old shipping container as its headquarters, a small group of bicycle mechanics are contributing to the future street development plans within the city.

RCR is a growing collective of cyclists spearheaded by Richmond resident Najari Smith. The group is pushing for change within the city to provide a safer place for people to ride their bicycles.

By using his vice chairman position in The Richmond Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), Smith has helped promote cycling in the city. He has also made contributions to the Richmond City Council’s foundation of the Bicycle Master and Pedestrian Plan which was adopted in 2011.

Smith is currently involved in speaking with the city council to set up a permanent bike shop on the Richmond Greenway to cater to the growing number of cyclists.

“We have been trying to get a shop right on the greenway,” Smith said. “We want a physical location (where we can) keep our tools.” Smith said that RCR needs this hub to be able to train youth on regular bike maintenance.

A year and a half ago, Richmond Spokes Cycles shut down due to reasons Smith refused to disclose. Spokes was the only bike shop in the city. He said he used to be a volunteer there until it closed its doors. He regrets that the shop was closed before he was able to impact his community through bicycle repair.

“I saw it as more than just a business,” Smith said. “To me it was a way of getting the community engaged. I don’t want to just sell you an inner tube, I want you teach you how to replace it.”

Since then, RCR has participated in and organized many rides that show the city of Richmond in a refreshing perspective.

“Riding makes you become completely engaged with your surroundings,” Smith said. “You notice things about the city you never would have noticed if driving in a car.”

Smith recruited mechanic and photographer José Hernandez. He joined RCR last year and has been riding since 2007.

He met Smith when he went into the shop asking for a job. “I just wanted to join (Spokes) and fix bikes,” he said. Hernandez went into the shop when he never received the phone call that the owners had promised him. “I was pretty bummed about it,” he said.

The idea of giving something back to the community is what sold Hernandez. He said, “We wanted to show people that there is a bike culture in Richmond.”

RCR promotes “appropriate transport and technology,” Smith said. “Say you live in Pinole but need to go to Oakland. In that case you probably should be driving. But if you are going to a friend’s house who only lives a few blocks away then driving doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Smith is not a Richmond native. He was born and raised in New York. Upon becoming a resident of the city two years ago, Smith was sure he had found his place.

“The East Bay is amazing,” he said. “There are so many access points and you can traverse into different cities using the greenways.” He said the current bicycle infrastructure could be improved with help from Richmond residents and council members.

Richmond has roughly 12 miles of bike lanes and nine additional miles planned by the end of 2016. An existing bicycle path is the Richmond Greenway. It runs west to east just south of Macdonald Avenue, until it reaches San Pablo Avenue. It is here that cyclists must cross a very busy intersection to connect with the Ohlone Greenway on the opposite side that extends about seven miles of trail ending in Berkeley.

Chairman of the Richmond Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee Nancy Bear said, “It’s a huge gap. We have to continue working to create better bike access and transportation within Richmond.”

Bear believes that people like Smith and Hernandez are essential in the advocacy for the city implementing “complete streets,” into its master plans.

She said a “complete street” caters to pedestrians, cyclists, young and old by widening sidewalks, creating more protected bike paths to encourage people to ride bicycles and reduce automotive congestion.

She said, “We hope people who ride will become more involved.” Bear said Smith fills an important role by sponsoring rides that promote bicycle awareness.

Contra Costa College geology professor Chris Johnson has participated in rides hosted by RCR and has also been involved with bike lane planning for the city of San Pablo.

“We need a system that doesn’t cater to just cars,” he said. “We need bike lanes that people from the ages of 8 to 80 can use.” 

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