HMC Bicycle Class Changes the Gears of Local Government

From left to right, Julie Medero, Professor of Computer Science at Harvey Mudd College and a member of Claremont’s Transportation and Traffic Commission, Paul Steinberg, Director of Bicycle Revolution and Environmental Politics Professor at Harvey Mudd College, and Kareesa Kron HM ’18 a student in Bicycle Revolution, serve on the panel following the screening of Bicycle Revolution. Rose Hills Theatre, Pomona College, November 9, 2017. (Lia Francis-Bongue • The Student Life)

Few politics classes at the 5Cs are as hands-on as Bicycle Revolution. The Harvey Mudd College class, first taught during the Spring 2016 semester by Professor Paul Steinberg, has students bike to meetings with advocacy groups and city officials.

The class, which is offered again next semester, focuses on environmental politics, specifically on political mobilization at the local level by actually engaging students in city government and advocacy. If nothing else, director and professor Steinberg hopes that “[the] bicycle revolution shows that political mobilization can be be fun.”

During the class, students explored bike infrastructure in twelve cities within the greater Los Angeles area, including Claremont, La Verne, Santa Monica, and Culver City, all the while being filmed.

The footage is compiled in the documentary “Bicycle Revolution,” which was produced by Kevin Foxe, whose credits include executive producer on the original “Blair Witch Project.” Foxe got involved after the original documentarian from the 5Cs Digital Humanities program had to back out.

On Nov. 9, the film debuted in Claremont to an audience of 70. Viewers ranged from students and community members to bicycle advocates and city council members of Claremont and La Verne.

The premiere was followed by a panel which included Steinberg, Foxe, and two students from the original class, Kareesa Kron HM ’18 and Zach Evans HM ’18, among others. The film, with a runtime of 48 minutes, was created to be a conversation starter for those looking to make change in their community. It is purposefully being made available for screening at a low cost so other bicycle advocacy groups can easily share it, film outreach coordinator Lauren D’Souza CM ’18 said.

Steinberg was first inspired to hold the class to explore how cities must change.

“Most human beings now live in cities … so if we want to move toward sustainability, if we want to do a good job of surviving as a species without trashing our planet, a lot of those [policy] decisions are gonna be made in urban areas,” Steinberg said, referencing moves toward green infrastructure.

Steinberg and D’Souza have more ambitious goals for the film than just education. They hope the film not only inspires people to get involved with local government, but makes genuine progress towards tangible change.

“[Education is] not our primary goal because a lot of people are very educated. If you’re a cyclist you know a lot about … the struggles in your own city,” D’Souza said. “The real goal is activism, and making change … really the purpose of the film is to start conversations between city officials and city government and local citizens, everyday people who feel passionate about these issues.”

The film, and the class itself, are more about connecting with city councils and with city officials. As part of the class, students went to transportation committee meetings and to make their voices heard.

“It’s important for Claremont students to realize that we go to the 5Cs but we’re part of a larger community and we’re part of the city of Claremont,” D’Souza said, emphasizing that the experiences of Claremont students, as bicyclists for instance, are just as valid as citizens of Claremont.

This also means that students are equally responsible for their own involvement. During the panel, council members from Claremont and La Verne talked with audience members about how a large number of voices could spur action. D’Souza thinks that Claremont students can be a part of those voices.

“Ultimately, I hope that the film shows that change is possible, and in fact change is all around us,” D’Souza said. “The question is simply whether we’re participating in bringing about those changes or not.”

Safety issues included light changes at the intersection and bike traffic on Bonita Ave. Although bike tracking apps show hundreds of trips going through Bonita a day, the bicycle lanes end at the Claremont-La Verne border, and pick up again on the other side of town.

“At first glance bicycle seems like this very innocent individual act, right? Just you on your bike, heading downhill with the wind in your hair,” Steinberg said. “People often express a sense of freedom on a bicycle, but as soon as you get on a bike and try to make your way across a city, you realize that there are some challenges and you cannot solve those alone.”

The needs of the community span beyond recreational bike infrastructure. Steinberg stressed the importance of transportation equality for those who can’t drive to and from school or work. Many people either can’t afford a car or are blocked from getting a license due to immigration status. Bike infrastructure is also important for the safety of children biking to school, he said.

Steinberg likened the growing movement of bicycle advocacy groups to body surfing.

“When you go body surfing there’s a perfect time to catch a wave and its not when it’s just starting, cause there’s not enough force, and it’s not when it’s already crashing on you and there’s really nothing you can do,” he said. “It’s that sweet spot when the power is just starting to move. I feel like bicycle advocacy is in that sweet spot – there are enough cities in the United States and around the world moving on this issue.”

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