youth bike summit: where advocacy takes root

Recycle A Bicycle Youth Summit - Tote Bags

In the week before the Second Annual Youth Bike Summit in NYC, the gathering of young people, educators and advocates from around the nation that convenes at The New School in Manhattan this weekend to encourage and empower a new generation of cyclists, Pasqualina Azzarello, executive director of Recycle-A-Bicycle, the event’s organizer, radiated calm.

Near her work space, a neatly organized island amidst the sea of used bicycles at the RAB retail shop in Brooklyn, hung hundreds of canvas tote bags (photo above), colorfully hand-painted by RAB teen volunteers for the conference participants.

On that day, Azzarello, who leads the NYC-based organization that focuses on bicycling as a vehicle for youth development, environmental education, community engagement and healthy living, had good news. Summit registration was trending up over the inaugural year, and two new sponsors, Specialized and Planet Bike, had come on board.

Youth Bike Summit 2012. Friday Jan. 13 – Jan. 15. The New School, Manhattan. Admission: youth $10, adult $25. Register here. is proud to help sponsor the Youth Bike Summit.

What one commenter on Facebook called “the Woodstock of youth and cycling,” kicks off this Saturday morning with a keynote address by Nydia Velázquez, U.S. Representative for New York’s 12th congressional district. Workshops throughout the day will involve participants not only in generating ideas to encourage youth involvement in cycling, but also on practical tools like organizing and fundraising to help bring the ideas to life in their home communities and beyond.

Pasquallina Azzarello - Executive Director, Recycle-A-Bicycle NYC
Pasqualina Azzarello, executive director of Recycle-A-Bicycle, in the RAB retail shop. photos: velojoy

Born on a Bus

The Youth Bike Summit evolved from an impromptu brainstorming session on a bus home-bound from the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Summit in Washington DC in 2010. Two high school student interns, who had expressed interest in the wider world of cycling policy, attended the summit with RAB.

“On the first night of the summit, nobody in the room was under 30,” Azzarello recalls. “Everybody wanted to talk to the interns.”

Their first trip to the capital, experiences at the summit and meetings with elected officials inspired a deeper desire for activism. Before they exited the bus home, the small group had sketched out a plan for an inter-generational exchange on engaging youth in the national conversation about cycling education and advocacy.

“Any policies passed regarding cycling affect all cyclists, so we need diversity at the table,” says Azzarello.

Summit Version 2.0

The interns, one of whom went on to speak on youth engagement at the 2011 National Safe Routes to School Conference in Minneapolis, continue to be involved in Youth Bike Summit planning.

See the Youth Summit in action in this inspiring Streetfilms video from last year’s event.

In its second year, Azzarello says RAB created a Youth Bike Summit Steering Committee, including participating youth cycling advocacy organizations such as Bikes Not Bombs in Boston and Bike Works in Seattle, to plan the summit and share practical information about staffing, best practices and other organizational issues.

“By facilitating the conversation among youth and adult leaders, we continue to make the process more collaborative,” Azzarello says.

New to this year’s summit is a series of workshop sessions in which youth advocacy organization staff members can exchange information on strategic planning, advocacy campaign management and program evaluation.

Building a Strong Foundation

It’s all part of a growing effort to build solid roots in local communities to help influence the national agenda about the future of sustainable transportation and safer streets.

“We need to unite bike education legislation with a strong network to promote cycling among youth,” Azzarello says. “You can plan safe bike routes, but you need kids to ride in them.”


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