Leader Profile: Ernesto Lizaola

An interview with Ernesto Lizaola of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
Tell us a little about yourself.

I started at Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) fresh out of San Jose State University and am coming up on my fifth year.

At SVBC I coordinated Bike to Work Day, then got involved in membership. Soon, I brought in our youth education programming. That’s when I transitioned to Safe Routes to Schools. It was more rewarding and engaging to bring the message to a younger audience. Plus, it really brings communities together. I got interested and directed my focus towards Safe Routes ever since.

Have you had to overcome any barriers in making an impact in your community?

The biggest barrier has been awareness of helmet use. Getting adults to be role models has been useful in connecting the dots. For communities lacking access to affordable bike repair, we try to incorporate bike repair into every event. In Spanish-speaking communities, one barrier is the view that bicycles are a kids’ toy and not for transportation. I love reaching out to Spanish-speakers because they are not often approached with these messages and resources.

Tell us about a funny or interesting story from an event, program, or project.

During one summer camp we planned a three-mile ride from a community center to downtown San Jose along a bike trail. Some kids had never been downtown before. They saw a huge playground and asked if we could stop and play, so we paused for them to play. Realizing how youth don’t get beyond their communities and getting them to explore is big.

Do you have a specific memory or moment that really made you want to work in your field?

I enjoy getting youth out of their cars to discover their neighborhoods. It’s interesting to see what kids notice when they bike. One year, we handed out disposable cameras for youth to photograph their routes to school in cars and bikes. When we compared pictures, they saw what they didn’t notice before. In cars, they would miss a park or fountain and the sounds of birds in the morning.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in supporting similar work?

It starts with you; you make an impact. If you’re a cyclist, invite someone on a ride. If you’re a parent, start with your neighbor. It starts with one person and snowballs. Get started with one other person!