Earlier this year, Mayor Yiaway Yeh launched a series of recreational events as a way to bring neighbors together. Called the Mayor's Challenge, it aimed to give residents new and old a venue for spending time together and getting to know each other.
Yeh's final installment of the Challenge will take place Sunday afternoon, Oct. 7, with Bike Palo Alto.
"Biking is a really tried-and-true Palo Alto activity," Yeh said this week, which also happens to be Walk & Roll Week for schools.
Bike Palo Alto, based at El Carmelo Elementary School and hosted by the residential Palo Alto Neighborhoods Green Teams, celebrates all things bicycling. Participants will choose from three bike routes that lead to landmarks around town, including the Baylands. Each route will include rest stops featuring free treats, such as frozen yogurt, lemonade and fruit, according to co-organizer Lisa Altieri.
Activities at El Carmelo will include a bike-themed obstacle course, free bike maintenance, free helmet fitting, tips on safe biking, a raffle and a "concierge" who can help people map safe bike routes to city destinations. Organizers said the purpose of Bike Palo Alto is to make it easier for people to ride their bikes around the city by introducing them to routes and equipping them to ride safely.
To encourage neighborhood participation in the event, four City Council members — Yeh, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, Nancy Shepherd and Pat Burt — will each lead a group of bicyclers from their respective neighborhoods to El Carmelo at 12:30 p.m.
"That affirms our identity of coming from our neighborhoods to engage in a pastime in Palo Alto," Yeh said.
Altieri herself became something of a bicycle convert due to Bike Palo Alto, which is now in its third year.
"I am the perfect example. I never biked," she said. Concerned for her safety, she didn't want to ride along busy El Camino Real from her home in Barron Park.
"It was great for me, the first year. I learned that you don't have to get on El Camino Real. There are routes that are safe. So for me as a novice biker, I felt comfortable," she said.
As an environmentalist, she said she's particularly enthusiastic about seeing more residents bicycle. Thirty-six percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions are produced by cars, according to the Palo Alto Climate Protection Plan. The large majority of those car trips — 83 percent — are not commuters getting to work but residents going to the grocery store or other places in town, the report noted.
"The goal is to get people to bike more often," Altieri said of Bike Palo Alto. "Driving is the largest impact we have on our carbon footprint in Palo Alto."
With Sunday's bike fest ending the Mayor's Challenge, Yeh said the year-long effort has been instructive in how to build community. The first event, in which people played pingpong in five locations around town, showed residents "it's enjoyable to be able to come together for a fun activity," he said. And yet, he added, meeting one's neighbors at the spread-out locations proved to be a bit "happenstance."
The second event, in which people did yoga, bocce ball or tennis in two city parks, consolidated the locations and brought people out to the parks. But getting people to try all three events proved challenging, Yeh said.
Bike Palo Alto will hopefully incorporate the lessons of the first two, with one sport and one location, but fostering neighborliness by having residents ride to El Carmelo together.
Moving forward from the Mayor's Challenge, Yeh and Scharff earlier this week received the City Council approval for another community-building idea, the Neighborhood Grants. Under that initiative, people who want to host a neighbor event or program — such as a speaker or a sports day at a neighborhood park — can apply for a micro-grant to fund the activity. A total of $25,000 a year will be available.
"Some of it is intended to focus on new and innovative ways" of bringing both recent and longstanding residents together, Yeh said.
"The lesson I learned in the Peace Corps was that it's best for people to act on their own ideas," Yeh said.
If you're going...
What: Bike Palo Alto!
Where: El Carmelo Elementary School, corner of Bryant Street and Loma Verde Avenue
When: Sunday, Oct. 7, 1 to 4 p.m.