Jason Tanzman, Outreach and Development Coordinator at Sibley Bike Depot, a nonprofit community bike shop in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, points to Sibley’s shift in focus and location as a sign of how the bicycling world is changing and expanding. When it opened in downtown St. Paul in 2001, the bike depot was primarily a place for businessmen and bike messengers to have their bicycles repaired. Since 2007, Sibley has been reinventing itself as a community-led resource serving the needs of riders—and potential riders—largely ignored or underserved in the past. Immediately after moving to University Avenue, the facility began attracting youth, youth of color, immigrants, homeless people, and low-income residents who don’t own cars.
“There has always been that white, upper middle-class, male, professional, Spandex wearing group, as well as an urban, hipster, messenger ridership,” according to Tanzman. However, other groups, having fewer options in how they get around, have been there, too, though largely invisible. To continue to expand the number and diversity of riders, Tanzman urges people to concentrate less on altering perceptions of who bikes, or on the individual behaviors of non-riders, and more on getting bikes into people’s hands. “You can’t bike if you don’t have access to a bike.”
In partnership with Bike Walk Twin Cities (see below), Sibley’s Community Partners Bike Library provides bikes on loan to community members, opportunities to earn a bike, classes in safe cycling and maintenance, weekly workshops and rides, and support for purchasing and maintaining bicycles for long-term use. Tanzman praises efforts of Jose Luis Villasenor, executive director of Browning the Green and host of the Tamales y Biciletas Youth Program, for his work in Latino communities, and Pillsbury House for its Full Cycle, a nonprofit program serving homeless and at-risk youth by teaching them the value of bicycling, and how to access free, healthy transportation.
A range of developments have made bicycling more feasible for area residents. Tanzman points to the large number of advocacy organizations and bicycle facilities that have sprung up, bike lanes and off-street paths and trails, efforts to educate the public about laws and the benefits of bicycling as a lifelong activity, and responsive employers. The network of community bike shops around the country and Twin Cities is an important piece of the puzzle, too.
While the number of men biking is still disproportionate to the total population, Tanzman says that things have shifted in the past 10 years. Still, barriers due to gender remain. For example, it is more challenging for women with young children to take care of their responsibilities by bike. There are class barriers, too. Those working lower-wage jobs can’t arrive at a job covered in sweat, and it’s less likely they’ll have accommodations for showering.
Tanzman sees Sibley Bike Depot cultivating a new generation of leaders. More leadership is needed to push for a re-prioritization of transportation funds away from freeways and into bicycling, pedestrian safety, and public transit.
Depending on where you live, it may seem as if we’ve already entered a new transportation age; a world where bicycling, walking, mass transit, and bike- and car-sharing are no longer fringe activities. Six points of view:
New World of Biking on Minneapolis’s Northside
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.