Brian Velez was a people person, a lifelong Baldwin Park resident with an artistic mind, a passion for community work, and an affinity for horses. The BikeSGV team had the great fortune of getting to know him after his sister Diane Velez began volunteering with us, and he found himself with some free time upon completing Public Affairs work for the Foothill Gold Line Azusa Extension. In short order Brian graduated from part-time volunteer to full-time staff, serving as the BikeSGV’s lead Outreach Coordinator, along-side his sister Diane Velez, BikeSGV’s Safe Routes to School Coordinator.
Brian’s contributions to our small team cannot be understated. He played a major role in making 626 Golden Streets a success, leading community engagement for a record-setting event involving 8 communities that had never hosted a ‘ciclovia’ before. Born to parents from Bogota, Colombia - home of the first ciclovia over 40 years ago - Brian educated countless San Gabriel Valley residents about the concept of ‘open streets’ and why they should care about active transportation. Brian was also the creative mind behind many of the event’s novel activations, including the participation of the 501st Legion, the Star Wars cosplay group who were immensely popular at the South Pasadena hub (among other things, he was a Star Wars fan). His only regret from the project was not convincing any local horse riders or marching bands to participate in the festivities.
In January 2017 Streetsblog LA asked BikeSGV for references for an SGV-based person with the skill set to conduct community interviews and cover local transportation news. BikeSGV’s leadership immediately recommended Brian, who was soon brought on board as a correspondent for ‘SGV Connect’ podcast. During his short tenure with Streetsblog LA Brian covered stories on President Trump and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Duarte’s first bike lanes, and horses as a means of transportation in the SGV, a topic he pitched and had a personal interest in. The latter episode hit a nerve with the listening audience, becoming the most popular Streetsblog podcast to date, inspiring a follow up piece by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
Brian became a nationally certified bicycle safety instructor in March 2017, helping teach and lead bicycle safety classes for local youth and adults. He was leading community engagement for a 5-city SGV regional pedestrian and bike master plan, and similar programs in 3 more SGV cities. He wasn’t just dreaming, he was doing, a lot, to better communities like Baldwin Park. Young trees at the Jeff Seymour Family Center in El Monte benefited from his care and watering. He also mentored students in, and was a graduate of, the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy Program.
Brian had a spot on impression of Governor Jerry Brown, liked to finish staff meetings ahead of schedule, and eat chicken wings - which later became known as “Chicken Time” in the Bicycle Education Center. He was a beloved colleague and friend who was doing incredible work to bring safer, healthier streets to some of the highest need communities in California.
A graduate of Baldwin Park’s public school system, Brian received a BA degree in Communications/Public Affairs from the University of La Verne, where he was a writer and section editor of the Campus Times, the weekly university newspaper. After college he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala as a Health Training Facilitator working towards improving the health of mothers and young children.
Brian was above all a brutally honest, non-judgemental and sarcastic human being. Brian serves as a reminder for us to look back at our mistakes, take responsibility for our actions, and continuously strive to improve ourselves and our communities. At home, Brian enjoyed spending hours making mixtapes for friends, helping his parents with their usual technical difficulties on their new apple tv, and texting his sister ridiculous memes in the middle of the night. In his free time he played with the family dogs, Maya and Mila, visited museums alone while listening to music on his headphones, and created artwork for his blog @VelezMixtape.
Brian unexpectedly passed away due to an undiagnosed illness on Wednesday September 27, 2017, age 33. He is survived by his sister Diane Velez, his parents Nohora and Luis Alberto Velez, and extended family in Bogota. He is missed by his many friends.
A slow-paced memorial ride in Brian’s memory will be held on Sunday October 15th.
The Velez family is creating a Brian Velez Scholarship Fund to honor his service to the community and give back to other young leaders. If you wish to donate in Brian’s name, you can do so in the following manners:
In Spring 2017 BikeSGV was very excited to announce the launch of one of California's first "Traffic Diversion" programs, providing persons cited while riding bicycle or other non-motorized vehicles an alternative to paying the full fine.
Made possible by California Assembly Bill 902, BikeSGV's Traffic Diversion program is the result of a collaboration between public health non-profit Day One, the City of El Monte, and the Honorable Judge Daniel Lopez of the Los Angeles Superior Court in El Monte. Over the course of the past four months (May-Aug 2017), 16 persons of all ages have opted for 'traffic school for bikes' in lieu of paying their fines, with both court and citation fees waived upon successful completion of a 3-hour 'City Cycling" class covering rules of the road as they pertain to people on bikes and safe riding techniques.
The average fine received by participants to date is $323, ranging from a low of $98 (minor riding without a helmet) to $916 (minor riding on a sidewalk without a helmet). The most common citations among participants were issued for either sidewalk cycling -- illegal in the City of El Monte, Los Angeles County unincorporated, and several adjoining communities -- or to minors riding a bicycle without a helmet.
According to the US Census Bureau median household income in the City of El Monte is $38,085. With many working class El Monte families and residents dealing with regional economic stressors such as increasing housing costs, fines of $300 or more can be a significant financial burden, adding to family debt or vying for basic necessities like food.
BikeSGV feels very fortunate to be able to provide an educational alternative to expense citations and court fees. However the active enforcement of and relatively high cost of fines for sidewalk cycling and riding without a helmet gives us pause, especially when compared with the costs associated with more dangerous behaviors such as running traffic lights.
Are citations for behaviors that pose limited threat to public safety an effective use of staff resources? Would the City of El Monte and neighboring communities be more effective at reducing traffic violence by focusing traffic enforcement on the 5 moving violations most likely to result in serious injury or death, as many "Vision Zero" cities across the United States are doing?
The City of El Monte adopted a Bicycle Master Plan and Complete Streets Policy in 2014 and striped its first bicycle lane in 2015 (Tyler Ave). In 2016 the City hosted its first ciclovia with neighboring South El Monte. In February 2017 the El Monte City Council unanimously moved to make the City of Monte one of the first Vision Zero cities in Southern California, setting a goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2027.
While steps in the right direction, this recent progress belies the lack of a cohesive network of comfortable bicycle infrastructure. The continued lack of safe bicycling facilities across the San Gabriel Valley remains a major reason why many locals who ride bikes as a means of affordable transportation prefer the perceived safety of sidewalks over high-speed streets not designed for people on bikes.
BikeSGV is dedicated to teaching the CA Vehicle Code (CVC), which is silent on the legality of sidewalk cycling, an issue left in the hands of local jurisdictions. Which of LA County's 88 cities permit sidewalk cycling is a question only a handful of the region's over 10 million residents, if any, are likely to know. (Don't believe us? Check out LADOT's list of sidewalk cycling policies). Sidewalk cycling laws are a gray area of the law, regularly changing as communities edit their ordinances, often unbeknownst to people who ride bikes.
Would communities across California be better served by a consistent statewide policy on sidewalk cycling? Are low-income communities disproportionately impacted by enforcement of these laws? Do sidewalk cycling bans in cities with limited bicycle infrastructure dissuade parents from allowing their children to ride bikes to/from school? What is the collision track record of SGV cities with bans on sidewalk cycling versus those without? What impact, if any, do such local policies and enforcement play in communities with some of LA County's highest rates of childhood obesity and diabetes?
These are all big questions BikeSGV does not have answers to, but feels are worthy of our time and consideration as they may impact some of our most pressing public health, safety, and environmental problems. If you're a graduate student or researcher interested in examining any of the above topics, we'd love to talk to you. If you'd like more information about BikeSGV's bi-lingual traffic diversion program, including how to sign-up for a 'City Cycling' class, please visit www.bikesgv.org/bicycleeducationcenter.html or contact BikeSGV Education Director Jose Jimenez at (626) 566-8302 or via email.
September is here! School's back in session. And BikeSGV has some exciting projects to support lifelong learning. Highlights include:
Your friends @BikeSGV
Cycle Safely and Confidently into the Fall
We're not horsing around
Been to a horse party? BikeSGV's Brian Velez has. Listen to his podcast for Streetsblog LA to learn more about hoofin' it in the SGV. More here
Want to learn more? Check out ActiveSGV's new podcast, ActiveLab