Join the Club!

Author’s note: this is the last of my Town Crier columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, published at the end of my two-year stint as a volunteer columnist. Sorry to keep you waiting for it!

Cyclists Need A Place to Call Home

In my first column I proposed a four-point plan for improved bicycling around Pullman and Moscow: connect the hotspots, upgrade the network, bring back the shuttle, and keep it local. True to my word,  today I describe the fourth element of the plan, the community bike clinic.

One vision I have is of a co-op or member’s club, either free or with a nominal membership fee. Membership would provide full access to the facility’s resources of parts, tools, and space; a number of “guest passes” to invite friends or friendly strangers to use the facility; and a sense of belonging to, and ownership of, the facility. The space would only be open when responsible supervision was available; and members would have to volunteer some of their time for supervision and maintenance. Those bike parts aren’t going to sort themselves! This facility should be accessibly located, ideally along one of the existing bike paths. I recall some interesting buildings along the Grand Avenue Greenway that might serve the purpose.

I have seen this system in place and working. Olympia, for instance, hosts three such facilities: one at The Evergreen State College; one in a downtown storefront; and one in a neighborhood barn, sponsored by a local bike shop. All are free and open to the public. All rely on volunteer effort and self-policing. All provide a safe and supportive atmosphere to the novice bicyclist. Here in Vancouver, Bike Clark County began with a slightly different emphasis, working mostly with low-income youth to teach bike safety and maintenance. They have since evolved into a fully-fledged “Education, Advocacy, and Adventure” organization looking to expand.

Who in this community might use such a resource? Considering all the students living in all those apartments, there might be quite a lot of interested people. Anyone with a desire to turn their own wrenches but without the space to do so, or without the wrenches themselves, would benefit. The community gardens have been successful; why not a community workshop? For that matter, why stop at bikes? An expanded space might well include sewing machines and large tables for craft work; a supervised kitchen for holiday prepping or seasonal canning; woodworking space; perhaps even an oil-change bay for those pesky but essential motor vehicles; but I digress.

As to where the initial inventory of bikes will come from, I have ideas on that. Having been to the WSU Surplus store in the summer, and having seen dozens of salvageable bicycles languishing in the open air, I suspect that a decent start could be made from the excess of what’s left over after spring cleanup. I also remember the piles of bikes and parts left for collection by the Village Bicycle Project, which ships them to far-off Africa for what I propose be done right on the Palouse: educate, enable, and empower people to get about under their own steam. Maybe we could share with them and keep half the donations at home?

Would a free bike co-op hurt local business? Judging from Olympia’s example and the many bike shops it supports, I suspect the two entities can coexist. The Palouse’s local bike shops are great community resources and place to do business, and I would not advocate taking anything away from them. They are also very much in favor of improving cycling conditions and bicycle culture. More people with bikes should mean more potential customers for them; more citizen-cyclists to access the community’s infrastructure; and more advocates for even better bicycle facilities. That’s what I call up-cycling!



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