I had the pleasure of attending Bike! Bike! Northeast this past weekend in Troy NY, and I had a great time. BBNE is a scaled-down version of the larger Bike! Bike! international annual conference of not-for-profit bike projects. There were representatives from most of New England and a few cities in New York – I think there were somewhere between 80-100 participants. Most of the events took place on Saturday, with a few things going on Friday and Sunday. I’m at a bit of a loss on where to begin with BBNE. I was only able to attend for Saturday and it was one of those days where so much happened, it felt like 2 days. And that’s not just because I woke up at 6AM and got home at 3AM.
I’m just starting to dip my toe in the world of the community bike center, so most of what I say here is not completely informed, but hey, if you can’t express an ill-informed opinion on the internet, then what is the internet good for!
I live on the East Side of Providence, I hang out with academics, I eat a 95% vegetarian diet, (obviously I don’t own a car) in general, I live in a pretty liberal world. Or so I thought. The CBC world is way further left than I am usually immersed in. We’re talking about groups like the Freegan Bike Shop who never pay for anything, and never charge money for anything (they want to operate completely outside of the capitalist system). We’re talking about fledgling CBCs who are considering applying for 501c3 status, but are concerned about the requirement that they need to have a board of directors because they don’t want to be controlled by an outside group (they were relieved to learn that you can write your bylaws in a way that the organizations’ workers make up the board). We’re talking about people who believe that living a lower-income lifestyle is an effective way to lessen your environmental impact on the world. And hey, they’re right! I would have to say that I have a bit of admiration for these far-lefties. They are living out their ideals and you’ve got to have respect for that. Me, I’ve kind of compromised so that I have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, with a few tweaks. There was actually very little overt political discussion during my time there, everybody was just talking about bikes, and the only politics expressed were how to get more people on bikes and how to get better bike infrastructure.
I’m afraid that I didn’t take as many pictures as I should have. For one thing, I felt a little conspicuous whipping out the iPhone. Also, I have a little bit of anxiety about taking people’s pictures when I don’t know them very well – especially when I intend to post these pictures on the internet. I did overcome my social anxiety to get a few choice shots. For example, this kid, who had injured his ankle, but he was not going to let that stop him from biking!
Before heading to BBNE, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. In fact, I had kind of low expectations. I like to make fun of the far-left crowd, anarchists in particular. But perhaps that’s just out of envy. I was expecting a total lack of organization for the conference, and there was a bit of that, like when they set up a tent to fix neighborhood kids’ bikes.
The first session I went to (Community Bike Shop 101) was described in the handbook as “skillshare and best practices for community bike shops.” There were about 15 of us sitting in a circle and the only guidance from the facilitator was, “why don’t we go around and each of the bike shops can say a little bit about what they do and then we can go from there.” I was prepared to be very annoyed. But it actually went really well. I learned a lot about what the other CBCs are doing and I got a lot of great ideas. And we totally avoided the hierarchical structures that pervade our society and destroy human interaction. All right, so I drank a little Kool-Aid while I was there, no big deal. I’m safe in my east side home, sitting on my Ikea couch and typing on my Mac.
I must have been drinking some Kool-Aid, check out the book I bought:
Uh-oh. Do I smell some 2nd wave feminism? Actually, no I don’t think it will be like that. I’m sure it will be quite interesting. I’ll have to give it a write-up when I’m done. The author was fun to talk with. It seems that her mission in life is to “bring cycling to middle America.” She grew up in Oklahoma and she wants cycling to be accessible to the people there who now use their cars for everything. And women, she wants cycling to be more accessible to women.
I have much more to write about – I haven’t even consulted my notes yet. I’ll just mention one organization that I learned about that totally blew me away: Pedal People in Northampton, MA. The city of Northampton doesn’t pick up trash or recycling, residents have to pay a separate service for it, so there are a couple of trucking companies that compete for residents’ business. And then there’s Pedal People. They pick up trash by bike using large bike trailers. In 2009, they picked up over 100,000 square feet of trash, compost and recycling. Their prices are competitive with the truck companies, and they are able to make a living doing it. It’s pretty amazing. I’d say more, but I think their website tells the story best – plus there are some great pictures of them hauling up to 500 pounds of garbage with one bike! Here’s a teaser from their website:
More Bike! Bike! posts later this week….