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Community organizations work to improve bicycle accessibility for transportation

Spoke Folks, Boston Square Community Bikes and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition are all working to make biking accessible and safe in our city.

/Courtesy of Boston Square Community Bikes

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Multiple local organizations are working to make sure people have access to bicycling for transportation- and the safe road conditions needed to make it more than a recreational activity- in Grand Rapids.

The Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition (GGRBC), a grassroots advocacy and education organization, is working to make Grand Rapids more bicycle friendly. Boston Square Community Bikes (BSCB) and Spoke Folks provide access to bikes, workshops and a space for anyone from those interested in biking to bike enthusiasts.

“It’s important for everyone to be more active. We all have a responsibility to improve our health. If you get involved in our programs as a member, volunteer or supporter, you’re helping us build a healthier, safer and more vibrant community,” says Tom Tilma, executive director of GGRBC.

GGRBC works for change in public policy and urban planning, and promotes the benefits of bicycling for health, the economy, environment and social equity.

About 10% of the households in the city of Grand Rapids don’t have access to a car, Tilma says, so making the city more bicycle friendly makes it safer and more convenient for people to use bicycles as transportation.

Some of GGRBC’s programs include Room to Ride, a campaign for 100 miles of bike lanes by the end of 2015, and Active Commute Week, where individuals log hours of each time they use a form of active transportation. The event is May 11-15 and participants can register online at the GGRBC website.

Tilma says every year the organization hears stories of people who had never taken their bike or ridden the bus to work before. After trying it during Active Commute Week, he says, they continued with it.

The Spoke Folks is a nonprofit bicycle cooperative that seeks to provide a resource for transportation cycling, bicycle education and maintenance. This past year Spoke Folks had over 600 repairs in their workshop.

The annual membership fee of $50 supports the organization and gives members access to the workshop. The shop is open from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays.

“We’re helping to move cycling from being a trend to making it a lifestyle. We want to show people that it’s fun, accessible and something that anyone can do,” says Mariah Kennedy, director of shop operations.

Kennedy says on average the total costs for an individual to own a car is $10,000 each year, so riding a bike has economic benefits in addition to the more widely-known physical and mental benefits.

The Spoke Folks will be participating in Ladyfest on April 4, an annual event that celebrates women in the community. There will be a six mile group bike ride at 12:30 p.m.

On April 20 there will be a fundraiser at Brewery Vivant for Climate Ride, a bicycle trip from Grand Rapids to Chicago. The organization’s annual festival Crank on May 30 is a street party that will feature bicycle related games and activities, as well as beverages from New Belgium, Brewery Vivant and Daddy Pete’s BBQ.

BSCB is a part of Oakdale Neighbors, a Christian community development organization. The staff and volunteers at the workshop work to keep bicycles out of landfills and reduce the carbon footprint of the city by refurbishing and selling or donating them.

The workshop is located on 1260 Kalamazoo SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49507 and open Mondays and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Tom Bulten, executive director of Oakdale Neighbors, says BSCB wants to help establish a stronger bike culture, and help more people to think of biking as an affordable way to get to a job, school or the store.

BSCB offers programs like [L]earn-a-Bike, where free classes for students on bike repair and maintenance are held at Alger Middle School and Ottawa Hills High School. Students are given a bike to work on and keep after they complete the classes.

Ryan DeRoche, bicycle educator and mechanic at BSCB, says he finds his work rewarding because he’s helping the community by providing safe and reliable transportation and teaching people to be self-reliant.

The work trade program allows individuals to make a payment toward a bike and work to earn bike credit to pay the remaining balance.

Take Back the Bike is a monthly bike night for women and transgendered people that want to work on bicycles in a safe space.

“In addition to being a bicycle workspace, we want it to be a social gathering space for the neighborhood and the city. When men, women and kids come by we hope they can connect, support and learn from one another so it can be a community building experience,” Bulten says.

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