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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Community Bike Programs

Hooray for a new bike project. Funny about the leadership vacuum, you get sucked right into the center, not that you shouldn't be there. That's terrific. I'll be happy to help in whatever way I can. I'm going to CC David Wilcox on this e-mail, because he is (a) a generally good person, one of the best I know, and (b) more experienced than I in the bike program universe.
(For David W: Hi there. I thought you might be interested, or have thoughts about this. I can't remember to what degree you and Kevin knew each other. Kevin was SEV/CR's spiritually serene IT and More volunteer. He lives in Indianapolis now.)
Lets start with the great bifurcation, and work toward re-unification: Bike Programs, more or less, come in two varieties: (a) those with a mission to work primarily with kids under the age of XX (13?), and (b) those started by activist youth, aged 15 to 30. Both are good.
In general, type (a) focuses on a particular underprivileged neighborhood and has goals more beyond the bike, providing a constructive activity for kids, safety education, social-skills/values/character building ("leadership"), exploration and exposure to diversity (for underprivileged kids, this means visiting "places of abundance"), mechanical skills building, and empowerment. Damn!
Type (b) is primarily interested in providing a resource for an established bicycling community, and maybe growing that community, and maybe recycling. This is often combined with other community projects, such as visual arts or music. The "Bicycle Punk" and "Bicycle Lifestyle" movements, if I can call them that, are examples of Type (b) at work. If they are programed at all, the programs grow organically, and have a collective governance model (something that doesn't work so well with a group of ten-year-olds; think Lord of the Flies).
I wrote the p-graphs below assuming your program is Type (a), then I went back and wrote the above bits. If your program is Type (b), I got nuthin, but I can refer you to some folks. IBF has links to lots of bike programs, Bicas in Tucson looks like a Type (b) program, as does North Portland Bicycle Works. Those are just ones I know about. I'm sure there are tons more. Are some programs both Types (a) and (b)? Certainly. Do (a) and (b) need different things? I think they do. Dave (W)?
Back to Type (a): Do you know about Recycle-A-Bicycle in NYC? Karen Overton was the director for a long time, and has written a couple of book on bike programs, very practical guides, both free, I think:
_Tools For Life_ is a bit dated, but is a guide to starting a program in the model of Recycle-A-Bicycle. Chain Reaction was started by a group of students using this as a manual.
_One Revolution At A Time_ is the more recent publication. It benefited from a lot of practical experience, and I think addresses some of the key problems with the first round of bicycle programs. This book recommends the "Ride Club" as the fundamental basis of a bike program, and is a guide to getting one going, and keeping it going.
The donation/repair/earn-a-bike stuff really ought to follow from bicycle use. Riding bikes, after all, is the point--it's fun, practical, and accessible to young kids. Also, you have to start with the safety and riding skills thing, otherwise you'll never catch up (you're left hold a helmet and they're two blocks away, riding against traffic...). When you have kids interested in the club who don't have bikes, then the repair part grows naturally.One recommendation that came from more than one program-director is to "programatize" tightly. That is, make sure the activities are well defined and structured. You can probably imagine the kind of stuff that is important here--having a beginning, middle, and end; specific goals for participants, and reflection on the experience; a sense of order, camaraderie, and belonging; blah blah blah. Beyond that, it really depends on the particulars of the programs you create.
Definitely find local resources: advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, city programs, local gov. folks (DOT), Safekids groups, local bike industry folks (nearby distributors, manufacturers, retailers), etc. The League of American Bicyclist has links to local and national organizations, and the Thunderhead Alliance is a hub for advocacy folks. Trips for Kids is a national organization with local chapters all over the country. They can help you get things rolling very quickly.
Like I said before, some of these links are on my goofy blog, thepracticalcyclist.blogspot.com.
In fact, I may put this whole message on my goofy blog. Maybe I should remane it "mygoofyblog."
Postscript: I never got around to reunification. Next time perhaps. Also, the photo is shamelessly borrowed from the website of the Community Cycling Center, in Portland, OR.

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