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From Portland: Cycling goes off!
Melinda Musser is the Communications & Marketing Manager at the Community Cycling Center in Portland, Oregon. We recently spoke to Melinda to learn more about the Community Cycling Center and its goal of broadening access to bicycling.
Adrian: Can you tell me how the Community Cycling Center first started?
Melinda: We began in 1994. Our founder, Brian Lacy, started a few blocks up the street from our current bike shop location. He noticed a lot of children were riding around on broken bikes and he had an idea: show kids how to fix their bikes and encourage them to try it themselves next time. The bicycle riding and repair school grew organically from there. Now, in 2013, we operate a full-service repair shop, a variety of community programs, and we collaborate with community members on neighbourhood-based projects. We partner with people who have expressed a strong interest in active transportation, active living, and creating healthier communities.
Adrian: Now I understand that equity is a key focus of the Community Cycling Center’s activities. Can you tell me more about this and how it relates to bicycling?
Melinda: Our mission is to broaden access to bicycling and its benefits. We initiated an equity gap analysis of Portland’s bicycling infrastructure in 2009 to see where bike lanes were placed in relation to where people were living. The study showed that where the highest percentages of underserved communities reside, the bicycle network is the weakest. Although we work closely with organisations that focus on bike infrastructure, we’re more focused on the people and ensuring that they have the skills, tools and resources they need to continue riding. A lot of times there are barriers around the cost of purchasing a bike and the knowledge that is needed to repair it. Safety is also a major concern when you do not have the necessary skills to ride in traffic. People may not understand the road rules. This can be a barrier. Not having friends, family, or neighbours to ride with is another barrier. We work with community leaders who’ve expressed an interest in bicycling. The two community partnerships we have right now are at New Columbia and Hacienda. In New Columbia, there are a lot of children riding and the community expressed an interest in building a bicycle repair hub. We worked together to build the repair hub last year. Now community members are teaching their kids how to fix a flat tyre, adjust brakes, and lead safety lessons. In Hacienda, community members went through bike maintenance training. Now, neighbours are helping neighbours with bike repair and safety education.
Adrian: I’ve seen that you’ve have an upcoming Bike Camp for kids. Can you tell me about this?
Melinda: Bike Camp is for kids ages 6 through to 17. We offer a variety of week-long day camps for kids. This year, we launched a new camp for the teen group: Mechanics Camp. We listened to a lot of teens, many of whom expressed an interest in learning how to build bikes, so we are very excited to offer the Mechanics Camp this year. The younger camps are widely popular. Campers get to choose their own riding destinations and meet many leaders from Portland’s bicycle economy.
Adrian: What kinds of activities do you get up to at Bike Camp?
Melinda: We have a variety of community partners so a lot of times kids will go to places like the United Bicycle Institute or another bike shop and learn about the mechanics of bicycles. Kids learn about basic repairs, road safety, and riding skills. A lot of kids don’t yet have the riding skills to explore outside of their neighbourhood. At Bike Camp, they learn how to ride to various places around the city. Hopefully after Bike Camp, kids and parents feel a lot more confident in their riding skills and can continue to explore our city together.
Adrian: How many volunteers do you have in the Community Cycling Center?
Melinda: In 2012, we had just over 870 volunteers. Basically it’s the equivalent of just over five full time employees, and over 11,200 hours of service. Our volunteers are incredible and support everything that we do. They help us build and clean bikes for our annual Holiday Bike Drive, they build bikes for our “Create a Commuter” program, they support the Bike Repair Hub out at New Columbia, and they do other non-bike related projects for us, like graphic design and photography. Every Tuesday there is a volunteer night in our bike shop and at least 40 people will turn up. We also have volunteer groups from many businesses who come in and help us clean and repair bikes.
Adrian: How important is have partnerships with businesses and government been in running the Community Cycling Center’s programs and activities?
Melinda: Very important. We rely on a mix of funding, including individuals, businesses, grant makers, and a small amount of government funding. Our shop is also a major revenue generator for our organisation and allows us to respond to community needs. We’re constantly exploring new ways to partner with people and organisations. We can’t do everything on our own, so it’s all about connecting with others, figuring out what our strengths are, and finding ways to work together.
Adrian: You have a fully operational bike shop. How is that different from other bike shops?
Melinda: We’re a non-profit organisation, so all the proceeds from our shop sales go towards our community programs. The mechanics in our shop are involved in supporting our programs in various ways. We also receive bike donations at our shop. All of the bikes that we sell are either used or refurbished. The refurbished bikes are like buying a brand new bike. They are fully overhauled; we disassemble the bike to clean and inspect each part. Anything that is worn or integrally damaged is replaced. We also offer what we call ‘as-is’ bikes, which are bikes that are assessed by our professional mechanics who provide a list of repairs that need to be completed before they are road-ready. If someone has the DIY skills, they can do the repairs on their own. We have one of the largest, if not the largest, selection of used bike parts in Portland. Our main goal is being able to offer a wide range of affordable products for people. Our primary customers are commuters, new riders, and the DIY crowd. They really enjoy our selection of used parts.
Adrian: Now the concept of a Community Cycling Center is fairly new. Have you had much interest from other cities in your programs and activities?
Melinda: Definitely. We’ve received quite a bit of interest from people in other cities. Recently a bike organisation in Cincinnati, Ohio wanted to start their own Holiday Bike Drive, so they flew out here to learn about what it takes to put on a program at that level. We’ve also received a lot of national interest and excitement about our Understanding Barriers to Bicycling Report. Community bike organisations around the country are now doing their own studies and are implementing similar research and programming in their communities. I wouldn’t say that the concept of a community bike shop is new; there are lots of organisations like ours around the country. You can view a list of them here.
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