Cities don’t become cycling utopias overnight, it takes lots of hard work from many inspired individuals to change the way people move within a city. Getting people onto bikes is not enough, they need to feel supported as they ride around. More importantly they need the tools to repair and maintain their bicycle as they would a car. While local governments are often slow when it comes to expanding cycling infrastructure and programs, local businesses and organizations can pick up the slack and improve lives for cyclists.
Car ownership is costly and inaccessible to many people, yet many cities are designed around the personal vehicle with all over transportation considered only as an afterthought. This brings a high level of inequality to people’s movement within a city that can be corrected with a shift towards cycling.
There are two pillars of change that can be used to get more people biking. They would simultaneously to ensure people have the tools and support necessary to maintain their bicycle and make sure people enjoy their time while cycling.
Businesses Supporting Cycling
The first pillar is businesses that support and directly target the cycling community. People who drive everywhere expect businesses to provide parking to them for free but cyclists often question whether there will be parking for them at their destination. Businesses that provide bicycle parking are unfortunately less common which may cause people to choose another transport if they are unsure. Ensuring that there is adequate bicycle parking wherever people desire to cycle to is vital to ensuring people are able to choose cycling if they desire.
Natural Cycleworks is a worker coop bike shop that also provides repairs. They are located in an old heritage building in downtown Winnipeg and because they only have one location they have an interest in growing the cycling scene in Winnipeg. More cyclists = more sales.
Employees at Natural Cycleworks were disheartened by the lack of bicycle parking in the Exchange District, so the installed their own. These new racks benefit the bike shop, of course, as a large proportion of their customers arrive on bikes. However these racks also benefit nearby businesses who get a new influx of pedaling patrons. Other businesses in the Exchange have started to cater directly to people who cycle.
Beyond bicycle parking there are many other initiatives that businesses can undertake to encourage and support cyclists. Whether it is installing bicycle staircases, to enable cyclists to easily move their bikes up and down staircases, or encouraging local governments to install protected bikes nearby. When Interstellar Rodeo, a music festival, took place in Winnipeg at The Forks, a bicycle valet was set up to provide parking for all those who cycled to the festival. Even people who did not cycle to the event may see the corral of bicycles and be inspired to ride to the forks next time.
The Downtown Winnipeg Biz association has created a Bike Friendly Business network. This program supplies businesses with a bike rack for customers as well as a kit with some tools a cyclist may need while they are on the go. All the business has to do is sign up for the program and commit to perform bicycle counts in the area around their business. This data will be used to improve services downtown in the future.
Community Bike Shops
The second pillar is community bike shops and the services they offer to the public. These organizations offer classes and tutorials on bicycle maintenance and proper riding etiquette. All of their services are offered for free or at a reduced cost and they have a workshop that the public can use for free.
Not everyone can afford all the tools that are necessary to perform bicycle maintenance, so community bike shops provide these tools making owning a bike more accessible. Parts are also provided at a discounted rate. One such community bike shop in Winnipeg is The W.R.E.N.C.H. In addition to all the previous programs offered, The W.R.E.N.C.H also has programming for school age children. Kids who enroll in this programs are taught bike maintenance and how to bike safely, and at the end of the program they are given a free bike.
In recent years The Forks has become a sort of bike hub with improved cycling infrastructure and parking. The W.R.E.N.C.H has opened a second location in an old train car providing free support to cyclists passing through. Beside the train car is a small repair station that is available at all hours.
Encouraging more people to cycle is a very important form of activism when transforming a city. However cycling culture, as it exists in many cities, is typically homogeneous in the sense that the clubs and groups organized around cycling generally consist of straight white men. This presents a problem when the goal is welcoming more people into these groups. To combat this unfortunate phenomenon The W.R.E.N.C.H offers Mellow Vélo, a program offering shop time and courses to for women, trans* and femme people. The goal is that someday everyone will feel comfortable on the road no matter who they are.
Focusing on these two pillars we can transform our city into a place where cycling can be the main form of transportation on the road. Then people feel supported and part of a community they are far more likely to choose cycling over driving. Moving away from cars as the main transportation will improve the health of a city and it’s residence. Working together all these small improvements can make a big difference to cyclists in a city.