Thursday, December 22, 2016

Laws That Criminalize Cycling Reveal Ill Intentions

Bicycle advocates have a difficult job. Winning improvements for cycling is hard enough, but then every gain they make can become the target of lawmakers who see cyclists as obstacles to be removed from roadways. Such lawmakers often try to hide their initiatives under thin veils labeled “safety” as if they are doing cyclists a favor.

Such false “safety” initiatives are usually packaged in laws that require cyclists to wear things, which make cycling less convenient and often impossible for impoverished cyclists without breaking the law. Such laws force impoverished cyclists into becoming targets for police harassment because they have no other transportation option. The most common of these sorts of laws are mandatory helmet laws. Others include reflective vests or other supposed safety gear.

These sorts of malicious initiatives are so harmful to any bicycle program that I made sure to include a short section on bicycle advocacy in Defying Poverty with Bicycles. The book focuses on setting up a community center where people can find bikes and careers. And yet even these program leaders must be alert for threats like these to ensure they participants can ride.

Even though such threats are common, I was stunned earlier this year when I read about the situation in New South Wales, Australia. Australia is already crippled by a nationwide mandatory bicycle helmet law, which likely emboldened brazen lawmakers. They took these deceitful tactics several notches higher with increased fines and an additional requirement for cyclists to carry ID. Read more about it here.

So I’m happy to report that they didn’t get away with it. This recent article gives a nice overview of the successful response from bicycle advocates.

We can let out a sigh of relief for everyone in New South Wales who needs to or will ever want to ride a bicycle. And yet we cannot ignore the fact that bicycle advocates had to spend more than a year battling this ridiculous threat when they could have given their energy to creating kinder communities.

We all have to keep a careful eye out for and then stomp out even the slightest hint of such threats or we could be faced with an escalation like they saw in New South Wales.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

DIY Bicycle-Powered Machines Gift Ideas

In Defying Poverty with Bicycles, I wait until the last chapter to encourage readers to experiment with machines powered with bicycles. I also include a warning to ensure that all Social Bike Business tasks are taken care of before embarking on these projects. Otherwise, the temptation to spend all our time with these fun projects could be too much.

But the holiday season, with its slowed pace and time to tinker, might be the perfect time to buck that warning and give it a try. There are several groups of pedal-powered machines for you to choose from. Consider what you want to power first, then decide whether direct rotational power will suffice or whether you will have to incorporate a generator and batteries for long-term power.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 12 to give you some ideas:

Bike machines are another fanciful addition to your manufacturing lineup. Bicycles can power knife sharpeners, corn grinders, electrical generators, battery chargers, washing machines, water pumps and water filters. The opportunities are endless. Each could become a mobile business for your training graduates or remain at your center for its use or to rent for specific amounts of time. Search the internet for “bicycle powered” and you’ll find ideas you never could have imagined. Some operate as bicycles to carry their owners to a place where they can set up shop. Then, with just a few turns of a wrench, the pedals become the power that turns the knife sharpening wheel, grinder, battery charger or other contraption. Before moving into producing many of the same type of machine, ask whether that particular bicycle powered machine is the most needed and in demand.
For instance, a remote rural area might benefit enormously from rentable bicycle powered corn grinders. If your center is in a remote area that has sketchy electrical service, your program itself might benefit from setting up several bicycle powered electrical generators that could provide direct power or charge car batteries for longer term use. Your volunteers and even kids in the area will enjoy pedaling a few rounds to build up the juice. Bicycle powered water pumps and filters could also directly benefit your center if your water supply is distant and not trustworthy. 
If you and your team want to go into production of bicycle machines to sell, you’ll need to narrow your choices or end up wasting an enormous amount of time producing a machine that no one will be interested in. Make sure the machines you produce offer a significant benefit to many people in your area and will be in high demand. Otherwise, keep your bicycle machine creations in the realm of off-duty time for your welders who want to play around.

This holiday season could give you and your team the chance to play around with ideas. Even if you don’t hit on a great machine to reproduce at your social bike center, you could come up with some wild gifts for the quirkiest people on your list.

And don’t forget those movers and shakers on your list who’d love to learn how to help people with bicycles. A copy of Defying Poverty with Bicycles might be all they need to charge ahead.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Reading, PA is Defying Poverty with Bicycles

Reading, Pennsylvania has become a new model for Social Bike Business because the entire city, from government officials to citizens, support and are proud of their social bike shop. That bike shop has also led to a bike-share program, a downtown DIY repair station, and bike racks on busses. New bicycle facilities on the streets are in the works. Read about this incredible story in this recent NPR article.

This didn’t happen overnight. Reading had to hit some terrible times first, including high unemployment and too many residents below the poverty level. But those bad stats set the stage for what has become a vibrant structure that now cranks out programs, run by locals, that are changing the city into a healthy, safe, and happy place for everyone who lives there. And they started with bikes!

In 2013, Reading’s mayor called a summit of officials and community stakeholders to take an honest look at their deteriorating economic situation. They saw the creation of a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) as key to the solution and guided its founding.

That CDC, called ReDesign Reading, is now the powerhouse behind programs that engage citizens in recreating their city – from murals to community gardens and markets to bikes.

Do you lead a bike program in your city that seems too detached from your city government? Check out ReDesign Reading then show your city officials. They’ll have a hard time snubbing such a fantastic model that sets citizens out as the experts and the very heart of solving a city’s problems. And they’re doing it with bikes!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Homeless Bikes for Homeless People

One of my pet peeves about bicycle programs for impoverished peopled is the tendency for these programs to ship abandoned bikes away to countries perceived to be “poor.” Usually Africa is the recipient.

Not only do the messages of these programs offend Africans and people in other developing countries, for goodness sake, they’re shipping great bikes away from people who could use them in their own countries! This is one important reason why One Street is so focused on our Social Bike Business program – to keep bikes and bike careers in their communities.

I’ve had some rather bizarre discussions about this with bike advocates and program leaders in various countries who support these overseas shipment programs and have found to my amazement a common denial that their country has any impoverished or struggling people. When I’ve pushed this point, sometimes they will admit there are some, but then continue to argue for shipping their bikes away.

These discussions uncover a disturbing blindness when it comes to recognizing poverty in our own communities. Here is one article about some people trying to reveal the invisibility of homelessness.

I realize that some of these bikes do fill important, temporary gaps in some countries. But in general they are preventing better long-term solutions such as local bike manufacturing and businesses that could supply affordable bikes and at the same time create bike careers for local people. Thus, they remove an opportunity from one community and hamper opportunities in the receiving community.

So I was very happy to find this article from Wichita, Kansas, of all places. Their program to match abandoned bikes with currently homeless people in their city seems like a great model. I plan to point to this example the next time I engage in a heated discussion about shipping bikes away from people who could use them, right where they already are.

Do you know of other nice examples that are keeping abandoned bikes in their communities? Please offer them in the comments section.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

It’s Time for Universal Transportation in the U.S.

Here in the U.S. there’s been a lot of chatter over the past decade about the declining gas tax revenue and finding alternatives. Now that chatter is getting rather shrill, touting alternatives limited by cultural quirks like an inherent terror of raising general taxes, an adoration of anything techno-complex, and a belief that each travel mode is used by an entirely different species from the others. Drivers never walk. Bicyclists never drive. And who are those bizarre bus riders anyway? These sci-fi assumptions force discussions of gas tax alternatives into far flung realms focused entirely on car drivers.

No need to recognize that taxing only drivers was wrong from the start and led to all other modes being shortchanged. Each alternative requires years of meetings, legions of consultants, and a battery of harassing surveys to even explain the concept let alone how each would actually work.

Here’s an article about one recent proposal—taxing car drivers per mile they drive. Any school kid could come up with the obvious problem with that one. And sure enough, as you’ll read in the article, decades of surveys have shown that few people like the idea of big brother tracking them. Duh.

What infuriates me is that nobody, at least here in the U.S., seems to realize that everyone should have the right to use every mode of transport. This strikes the same fury each time I fail to avoid a “debate” over universal health care for our country. Why are we still discussing this? The United States is the only developed country without universal health care. Many undeveloped countries provide it, too.

Basic rights. The basic right to health care. The basic right to move around as we choose. These rights should not be questioned or debated or skirted with preposterous techno wizardry alternatives that focus on one travel mode and only deflect the obvious solutions.

To me, the obvious solution for replacing the archaic gas tax is to raise general taxes for everyone and require that tax money to provide universal transportation choices for everyone. We’d pay no more, and likely less, than what we’d pay through that big-brother driving fee because all those administrative and consultant costs would vanish.

This would mean that every transportation dollar spent would have to ensure that all modes are provided for—drivers, bicyclists, wheelchair users, other pedestrians, even delivery trucks. Lots of compromising would have to occur. For instance, trucks would no longer be able to enter busy downtowns, but these fabulous cargo bikes would take their place. Car speeds would have to be reduced, but better intersection designs that accommodate non-motorized travelers would actually allow for better traffic flow and shorter travel times even for cars. Public transit such as busses and trains would move from the fringe to central in every transportation system. And all travelers, no matter their income level, would have equal provisions for the mode of travel they choose.

Here’s just one site showing street transformations that accommodate all users now. Imagine how many more streets could be changed (or built from the start) like those if all transportation funds had to be spent this way.

So let’s stop bickering about the latest techno-wiz-bang gadget for spying on car mileage and refocus all those ill-spent survey dollars on an across-the-board tax increase that pays for universal transportation for everyone. Then we can honestly call our country the “land of the free” – free to choose how we travel without big brother watching.

What are your thoughts on this universal transportation idea? Please offer them in the comments section.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Philadelphia Youth Learn Leadership through Bicycles

Here is a special guest post from Taylor Kuyk-White, Youth Bike Education and Empowerment Program Coordinator at Neighborhood Bike Works in Philadelphia:

Philadelphia is a city that loves bicycles--to commute, to exercise, to recreate, to socialize--the list is about as diverse as the population that uses them. Among the myriad bike shops in the city, Neighborhood Bike Works is a favorite of Philadelphia's youth. That's because Neighborhood Bike Works is no ordinary bike shop. Neighborhood Bike Works (NBW) is a place where youth become self-sufficient mechanics, traffic savvy riders, and young leaders.

A nonprofit community organization, NBW uses bikes as the hook to engage young people in building skills and developing healthy habits that support them in and outside of their passion for all things two wheels. We do this work with young people in a multi-tiered layer of programs we call our Youth Bike Education and Empowerment Program. Youth ages 8-18 can join any one of our entry level programs (Earn A Bike, Ride Club, and more) to than have access to many graduate and advanced level programs that revolve around activities like racing, kinetic sculpture building, weekend open wrenching, and many, many more.

One of these advanced tier programs is our Leadership and Advance Mechanics Course. In this class, youth ages 14-18 crystallize professional mechanic skills, practice public speaking, build networks with bicycle industry professionals, learn valuable teaching methods, and get some real life job interview experience all over the course of eight weeks. During the 2016 graduation of this course that took place in early March, youth reflected on how many job opportunities had opened to them in the bicycle world that they never would have dreamed existed.

Nasir shared, "When I came to Neighborhood Bike Works I wanted to train to become a bicycle mechanic. I thought that was all you could do as a job with bikes. Now I realize there is a lot more out there—engineers, city planners, bicycle coaches—and I know the people in those fields that could help me build a career in that direction."

Beyond networking and professional development, one of our keystone programs was one dreamt up and implemented by the youth of NBW themselves: the Youth Council. This core group of young leaders prides themselves as the youth voice of the organization, collaborating with the wider graduate network to ensure that NBW's values, goals, and decisions are consistently aligned with those of the NBW youth body. The inspiration for the council was gained by four NBW teens in 2014 when they attended the annual Youth Bike Summit (YBS) in NYC. Unsurprisingly, participating in the YBS has become an important annual tradition for this group. This year they are gearing up to lead a presentation at the YBS walking their audience through their process for setting up a successful youth council!

As the Youth Council Advisor, I have often found myself pulling upon the insights I gained from my work with One Street in 2010 and 2011. In both years I had the privilege to attend an international advocacy conference called Velo-city. The value and pure magic of participating in those summits lends great motivation to my work with the youth council as they prepare themselves for the Youth Bike Summit year after year. Further to the benefit of supporting the Youth Council, I was able to attend the Velo-city conferences only through my efforts on two years of creative fundraising and sponsorship drives. As you might imagine, these youth now have also gained important skills as fundraisers and event coordinators in service of their own goals!

In the end, NBW is not about one-way teaching of youth. Instead, we guide these incredible young people into the skills they need to become teachers and leaders no matter where they go from here. Neighborhood Bike Works aims to outgrow the all too common youth service model and step into a generation of Youth Led work. The outstanding members of our Youth Council are helping us take one more step in this direction!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Kampala Bicyclists Gaining Recognition

A recent news story from Kampala, Uganda shows how city officials are making the important shift from trying to ignore cyclists to recognizing that most of their citizens want to bike.

This video of the story starts with the worn-out assumption that only poor people ride bicycles. But as readers of this blog know, a bicycle is often a rider’s ticket straight out of poverty. The video gets right into that with an owner of a bicycle transport business. This business man shows that not only has his bicycle business given him comfortable income and paid for his children’s education costs, he is healthy and fit because of it.

We also get to meet Amanda Ngabirano, a One Street Advisor currently serving as Secretary on our board of directors. She emphasizes that people shouldn’t have to pay bus and taxi fares just to move around. She shows that by investing in bicycle infrastructure so that anyone feels comfortable riding, cities will be providing a free transportation choice for their citizens. Bicycling will also keep them healthy, lowering health costs.

The story ends with an uplifting interview with a city official who is genuinely enthusiastic about their new bicycle investments, which include major bicycle provision pilot projects in downtown Kampala.

I recommend taking the four minutes to watch this uplifting story of a city that will soon become a model for bicycle transportation provisions.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Solving Social Equity for the Bicycle Movement

Over the past few years, some U.S. bicycle advocacy organizations have been grappling with concerns over social equity in our movement. Just recognizing that there is a problem with equity in bicycle programs is an enormous and admirable step, especially for national and bike industry organizations who have always been detached from the local level.

It’s easy to get caught up in our own program goals and not recognize that we may be leaving whole sectors of communities out because of location, age, income level, culture, or ability. That’s why One Street included social equity in our mission at our very start, so we could never forget. We’ve also gathered a few worthy resources on our Social Equity page, but it remains quite sparse.

Unfortunately, most of the recent attempts at the national level miss the mark that will actually solve the problem. Their detachment shows through their platitudes and jargon. Bicycle organizations are not alone in doing a poor job with this. Here’s an example, written by a national center that claims to be an expert on social inclusion as they attempt to teach a national bicycle organization what they know: Five Things the Bike Movement Can Do Now to Move Toward Racial Equity. Here are my concerns about each:

  • #1 Interrogate Root Cause of Disparities – They tell us to ask “why” five times. To whom? When we find five different pet peeves, do we go racing after solutions for each?

  • #2 Lift up Leadership of Color in Your Movement – Why would you choose a leader based on their skin color? Isn’t that the very thing that the civil rights movement has always combatted?

  • #3 Reframe the Message – Good idea, but their approach leads to jargon that I don’t even understand, let alone someone not yet interested in bicycling.

  • #4 Engage with Communities – I thought I’d agree with this one because, as you’ll read below, the solution centers on knowing your community (neighborhood, town, or city), but again it drifts into meaningless jargon muddying the definition of community.

  • #5 Share Power and Resources – It claims “plenty of ways” but opts again for a paragraph of jargon rather than helpful solutions.

Other national bicycle organizations or bike companies twist the concept of social equity to sell their programs such as protected bike lanes (which should be assumed to provide equal benefits to anyone) or bike share programs (which will never serve low-income riders).

I find the jargon and platitudes to be worse than the thinly veiled sales pitches because the reports and articles that result from these detached efforts are heavily funded and then promoted as “groundbreaking.” Anyone frustrated by seeing only one sector of their community riding bikes would be thrilled to find such a report. Instead, we find notes from endless discussions and surveys that always end with a fixation on skin color or assumed gender.

These useless attempts have only heightened the frustration at the local level. A recent article I posted about late last year reveals the level of frustration, not just from local bike advocates, but those who have had the misfortune to have worked on these reports.

To even start on a solution for our own communities (meaning neighborhood, town, or city), we first have to understand that any discussion of social equity derails as soon as we attempt to categorize people we see as different from ourselves and thus not equal. Such categorizing is different from recognizing unique qualities. For instance, young individuals could bring welcome energy. Old individuals are sure to have important experiences to share. Individuals from various cultures can offer new ideas. Individuals with disabilities can show able-bodied people what they struggle with.

The categorization I’m warning against is just a short misstep away from recognizing the value of individuals. Instead, it leaps to the assumption that all people with that trait will bring that particular value or, even worse, that particular complaint about bicycling. If you do take the time to read some of those misguided reports you’ll find far too many assumptions about “women,” “black people,” and “Latinos.”

To clarify, there are some excellent local bicycle organizations who focus on specific ages, cultures, abilities, or even gender identities. They are specialists who serve communities of traits rather than boundaries. They are helping to make the shift toward social equity by lifting those specific, marginalized communities, but none would claim that their organizations are inclusive or socially equal. They can’t be.

My concern is about bicycle organizations who should serve everyone, but present “social equity” as serving skin colors or genders. This confusion is not unique to bicycle organizations. Why is President Obama more black than white when he had one of each for parents? If a white baby is born to black parents he or she would be black by birth, but would be treated as and considered white by people who write social equity reports. If a woman is as assertive and athletic as male bicyclists, why is she grouped in with women who fear traffic in these reports?

The whole conversation needs to shift to a totally different mindset that all people have equal rights to bicycle. Bicycle advocacy is about breaking down barriers, about ensuring that everyone can choose to bicycle. If anyone in a certain community (neighborhood, town, or city) has the ability to ride a bike, but cannot, there is a problem that needs to be solved.

A neighborhood surrounded by freeways might have a predominance of black people. Advocates could look for gang violence and police brutality as possible barriers as these are frequently called out as barriers to bicycling in black neighborhoods. Here’s a classic example: People in Your Hood Ride Bikes to Shoot People. Just as likely, though, are those darn freeways. A tunnel or overpass that reconnects that neighborhood to the rest of the community could be all it takes to open the flood gates of bicycling.

The solution for social equity in the bicycle movement starts with knowing your community. No one at the national level can do this for you. Stop wasting time on all those jargon-filled reports. As I describe in Defying Poverty with Bicycles, take a long careful look at all the people in the community your organization serves. If it’s a retirement community, the vast majority should be over 60. You don’t have to worry if there aren’t that many kids riding. The neighborhood you serve may be mostly Latino with some white and Asian residents. Then don’t worry that black people aren’t bicycling there. Social equity for bicycling in your community will mean that the people who ride represent a cross section of that community.

Look past skin color and gender to see what obstacles these particular people face. Do they live in a neighborhood shunned by the city? Then their neighbors of all skin colors are also burdened by that problem. Are women not riding because they can’t ride with their children? Then single fathers and men who spend quality time with their children are also burdened by that problem.

If you find certain ages, cultures, income levels, and/or abilities missing from the people bicycling, only then should you begin your investigation into the problem – why they aren’t riding. If people with certain traits aren’t attending your events and engaging as volunteers or leaders, something needs to change in your bicycle programs to make them valuable and interesting to people like that. If the problem is external, define it and then launch a customized campaign to solve that particular problem. Read our Campaign Planning page for specific steps or email me at sue{at} for help. That’s what I’m here for.

If we expect the bicycle movement to equally serve all people, we have to shift our focus from skin color and assumed genders to honoring the expertise of local leaders of bicycle organizations who are the only ones who can truly assess the inequality of their particular communities. By dropping the national bravado and supporting these local leaders toward their unique solutions, the entire bicycle movement will eventually shift toward social equity.