The interview below has been edited for clarity.
Chase Engelhardt: I’ll kick it off! So the first thing I wanted to ask is if you could just tell us a little bit about what you do at CicLAvia and how long you’ve been there?
Tafarai Bayne: Word. My name is Tafarai Bayne and my job title is Chief Strategist with CicLAvia. Essentially, I support in the strategic development, organization, event planning, political and community relations, and overall stewardship of the organization. I guess I’ve been involved with CicLAvia for about 10 years. I actually got involved when I attended the first event as a participant, finding out about it in LA weekly… I attended it with some intention of scoping it out—like, this looks like a cool community engagement project. I was doing community organizing at the time and, yeah, I was incredibly impressed by [the event] and tracked down the organizers and immediately hit them up about also having one in South Los Angeles. I started my involvement with the organization to work on their expansion into communities like South LA, which leads to my work today with them.
Chase: Awesome! So thinking about CicLAvia’s work, personal vehicles make up a large share of our greenhouse gas emissions—the majority—and we certainly have the vehicle infrastructure in LA to show for it. Right? We have massive freeways, and streets aren’t exactly friendly to bikes. So how does that play into your work at CicLAvia and what gets the people that you all work with excited for change?
Tafarai: So, yeah, LA’s massive incredibly long history of car orientation has definitely been a challenge. I was involved in helping produce a second event and I remember being at some of those meetings and, even after the first event, apparently they were like, “no you guys can’t do it” and so it didn’t happen. Until the Mayor broke his elbow—Villaragosa at the time—in a bike accident. He was riding his bike, he got doored by a car and that was the light bulb in his head. It was like… oh maybe this CicLAvia thing is a good idea. So literally some of that along with all the gumption of the organizers to get that first political will to turn street space over to cars.
After we did the first event it really kind of set a standard. People were like wow… everybody was smiling… it was fun. And still there were some engineers saying, “you can’t make us do this forever, you can’t do this repeatedly.” But with the political will folks were forced to come to the table and really help start to make [CicLAvia] work. I think that, since then, as we’ve done repeated events, it’s really illustrated what the power of our project actually is. I think one of the reasons why we’re important at this moment is that we have literally changed people’s public perception of what streets in Los Angeles can do. These engineers, and Metro, and LADOT, and civic leaders, who never would have thought that Angeleno’s would accept months of carless streets. And didn’t expect Angelinos to actually own bicycles and want to ride their bicycles in the city. I think that we showed these leaders that there is this massive appetite for this in our city.
I think it speaks to the work of climate change advocacy and changing people’s personal behaviors. Their lifestyles. And in CicLAvia, open street programs really allow people to, for a day, transform their lifestyle around sustainable activities. Like bicycling, and walking, going to small businesses in the local communities, using public transit, and really experiencing their city in a way that they do not get to do when they’re going with their daily grind. And dealing with their vehicles and in the way that they’ve been taught how to live in a city. And I think that experience really transforms people and allows for deeper conversations and deeper political change to happen. Where people are much more open to dynamics of new emerging things, and new ways of doing things, and making decisions that are new decisions. Which is always hard for humans to do. Even when humans love leaning on their reflexes about the way their life is and it’s really fascinating to watch people sort of change that, based on a smile and a handshake and a great interaction, they had riding a bike one day. I’m excited, maybe I’ll ride my bike to work every day. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing we like playing with.
Chase: Yeah, I love that, like leading with the fun. It’s like you said that’s how you got involved right it’s just like oh that sounds fun.
Tafarai: I mean the vast majority of my political work is based on my personal experience.
Chase: Yeah, that’s super cool! I love that! Thank you! So another thing I wanted to ask was how climate change impacts your work? What’s the biggest impact of climate change? Like extreme heat, drought if relevant, or extreme precipitation, any of these changes that we’re experiencing now, wildfire, how that affects air quality, how has that affected your work and the folks that you work with right whether those are like businesses or participants? Have you noticed anything in your day-to-day work?
Tafarai: I love when the interviewer asks a question they clearly know the answer to. Yes, climate change has some serious impacts on our work. Wildfires and air quality is huge. We literally can’t have an event if the air quality is bad. If you’re talking about putting people out biking in particulate soot, their lungs will hurt after a while. So we’ve had to look at our schedule—we had one event that was so close to being cancelled. We were checking our quality indexes and looking to see if the air cleared up enough and luckily it did but air quality I think is a huge concern for us with wildfires. Extreme heat of course is also dangerous, so we look at extreme heat events and extreme weather events. LA’s not a rainy-day city. We did one event and it actually rained on us a little bit, but just enough not to scare people. I think one reason why CicLAvia we feel like it has so much potential in our LA is because of our moderate mediterranean climate. So the idea that that’s changing, I think does clearly present some challenges.
Chase: No, I think that makes total sense and I appreciate you humoring me on me leading the question there. Cool, well the last thing I wanted to ask you is what gives you hope for your work in the future and hope in terms of climate action?
Tafarai: Well, I feel the one thing that gives me hope is, even with this massive pandemic, we have the appetite for people to be outdoors and engage with each other. To gather, to play. It’s huge. I’ve watched neighborhoods and communities throughout the pandemic maintain levels of activity like Leimert Park or Lincoln Heights, where folks are out with street vendors, in the streets, engaging. That stuff really gives me hope because I know that throughout the pandemic that wasn’t the safest of activities. But being outdoors is one of the safer things to do during a pandemic and I’m excited that LA still has a massive appetite for it. Did you know there were periods during the pandemic where I was sitting in my house in my underwear for days on end? And so the concern around people being scared of engaging with one another I feel like was real. I think that I’m really excited about [things opening]. I just know that once we start doing our events it’s just going to be doors open kind of thing.
Chase: Yeah! That’s awesome, man! I agree. I was also sitting in my underwear too wondering what was gonna happen, so I can commiserate. Cool, well thanks so much for answering these questions!