Commuter Profile: Diego Gerena-Quiñones

What do you do? I’m one of T.A.’s Bike Ambassadors, and I’m T.A.’s Staten Island Organizer, and I’m a bike messenger for Street Kings NYC.

Where are you from? East Harlem, New York. El Barrio.

When did you start biking in the city? I was one of those babies on the back of a bike. My parents took me to school like that, and as soon as I could ride, I was all over the neighborhood. About two and a half years ago is when I decided to go fast and far. I bought a road bike from Recycle-a-Bicycle and fell in love with passing cars and riding the streets.

How did you get involved with T.A.? It was totally by chance. I was delivering a package to T.A.’s building when I ran into a guy who I knew from my days as a community organizer. He told me that T.A. was looking for seasoned organizers to work on bike issues, and I jumped at the opportunity.

So you have a background in organizing? I come from a household of activists. My mom represented low-income tenants in housing court, and my dad was a social studies teacher. Since the age of 14, I’ve been doing organizing work: education, housing. I focused on the displacement of low-income communities of color in East Harlem after graduating with a BA in Political Science and Black Studies, so yeah, I have a pretty real background in organizing.

What do you think about the charge that bike lanes are a harbinger of gentrification or that livable streets are elitist? It’s absurd. Sure, there are barriers to cycling in low-income communities—the cost of a bike might be an issue—but the idea that people of color or lower-income New Yorkers are negatively impacted by the ability to get around safely and healthfully in their community is absurd. That argument has no basis. I never understand why people would say that.

Image courtesy of Will Ragozzino

You’re a bike messenger, who’s paid to get things to places quickly, as well as a Bike Ambassador, who’s paid to espouse the virtues of safe cycling. Are those two jobs ever at odds? That’s a tough one. How should I put this? Well, I think you made an important point: messengers are expected to get things to where they’re going in as little time as possible, and they’re paid per-package, so there is even more incentive to go fast. At Street Kings, we go fast, but we go fast safely. Safety is our number one priority. It’s part of our brand, and we don’t want to mess that up. I think the Bike Ambassador message is pretty similar: We teach people to ride safely and ride in a way that reflects well on all cyclists.

I heard that you’ve got another project in the works. Can you tell us about that? It’s called the Youth Urban Bike Initiative. It’s through Street Kings NYC, and it’s something I’ve been dreaming up for a while. We work with alternate incarceration programs to get troubled youth involved in the bike world. We provide bikes, mentoring and support to give these kids a way to get away from the street life or from being bored and causing trouble or from whatever. We’re there, we’re riding, we’re having fun.