Asian American Hero of CO: David Chen
By: Patricia Kaowthumrong
When Dave Martinez was struck by a car while biking in December and died from his injuries a few weeks later, lifelong cyclist David Chen became determined to honor the memory of his neighbor. He helped organize a memorial ride to celebrate Martinez’s life and was ironically struck by a truck driver while biking to pick up his kids from school a couple days later—an experience that led him on the path to becoming one of Denver’s most influential street safety advocates.
While Chen only suffered minor physical injuries in the crash, he was forced to reconsider biking altogether, but decided that the intangible benefits, specifically the sense of freedom and joy the activity brings him and his family, were worth fighting for. “To deny that lived experience to my children was more intolerable to me than giving up and joining the minivan crowd,” he says. “I doubled-down on not only riding, but also in making sure the city was safe to ride for everyone, no matter the demographic.”
Since then, Chen has been active in helping to pass state legislation, lobbying city council, participating in public outreach, and helping to organize a burgeoning grassroots advocacy community. The latter comes in the form of the Denver Bicycle Lobby, a newly formed ad hoc group of grassroots activists focused on advocacy and action. “David is an active transportation advocate who has had an impact at the state and local level to influence elected leaders and planners, support bike lane and street safety projects, and cultivate change in the media and public opinion to create safer street environments for families and kids,” says Piep van Heuven, Policy Director at Bicycle Colorado, who nominated him for the award.
Chen testified about the need for better laws to protect bikers on the road at the State Legislature to help pass the Bike Lane Safety Bill, signed into law by Governor Polis in March. As for his greatest achievement, Chen is proud of his local advocacy work. “While the policy work may be an achievement to be proud of, the work advocating for victims and their families is the most important and solemn, that I’ve done.” he says. “Road violence does not discriminate. There is so much more work that needs to be done for these victims and their families. When we have remade the city’s streets so that no more traffic deaths occur, that will be the real greatest achievement I could hope for, and the right way to honor their legacies.”
Chen, who moved to the Centennial State from Washington, D.C., in 2009, hopes to inspire Coloradans to integrate biking into their daily lives, including school pick-ups, grocery store runs, and even camping—all things he and his family do on two wheels. “The changes I seek in transportation policies and in the built environment enable me and my children to be safer in our daily lives. That these changes also benefit everyone else who rides, rolls, walks, or takes transit, is a bonus,” he says. “It feels like a generational shift is also bringing about a societal shift in thinking, about de-prioritizing the privately owned and operated automobile as the default, and sometimes only, way of navigating one’s community.”
Chen encourages younger generations to be open to new experiences, people, and successes that a detour in life might offer. “In the grand scheme of things, finding those moments of joy and creating memories you will cherish, mean much more than meeting a performance metric at work,” he says. “We have made many such memories, my children and I, while cruising on two wheels.”