Yellow Bike Project Turns 10
Although Yellow Bike boasts more volunteers, community-benefiting programs, and grassroots momentum than ever, a cloud of uncertainty looms over group's East 51st shop, set for demolition by early 2008
Some say bicycling is the most effective form of activism. One organization, Austin's Yellow Bike Project, has been taking issues of oil-dependence, pollution, climate change, and transportation equity directly to the streets now for 10 years. The group began as an offshoot of the local Bikes Not Bombs group, rehabbing broken-down bikes for free release into the community and eventually maturing into the steward of open-to-the-public bike-repair shops and mentor to a new generation of citizen bicyclists through numerous youth-education and bike-donation efforts.
This weekend, as Yellow Bike celebrates its 10th birthday, the organization boasts more volunteers, community-benefiting programs, and grassroots momentum than ever, though one big uncertainty looms on the horizon: eviction from their East 51st main shop and nerve center, set for demolition by early 2008 to make way for a road for the Mueller Redevelopment. Volunteers are optimistic, however, that Yellow Bike will continue to persevere.
Longtime volunteer Jennifer Schaffer explained that while herds of yellow bikes are still regularly released, the group focuses more on education than anything else, offering free tools, space, and knowledge. In other words, it's a place to learn about bikes, build bikes for the community, work on your own bike, or even build yourself a bike for free in exchange for volunteering and it's open to anybody, regardless of financial situation. In addition to releasing an estimated 1,200 yellow bikes, volunteers have recently conducted kids' education programs for Kealing, Mendez, and Bedichek middle schools and provided about 300 bikes to Hurricane Katrina refugees in Austin. All of these efforts originated out of Yellow Bike's 51st Street headquarters, a city-owned warehouse donated since 2001.
The city is working with Yellow Bike to locate a new home, but the harsh reality is that the group will likely have to buy or lease its own site. If that's the case, "Yellow Bike in its current form would end," said Schaffer, equating YBP's success in large part to the organization's access to free space. "We really want to get ourselves in a permanent position of sustainability, with a sense of security, and focus on the good work we do," she said.
Pete Wall, another YBP veteran volunteer, explained that the group's ultimate goal is to get more bicycles on the street and that cyclist safety is one of the reasons why. "When cyclists are rare, drivers may have the notion that they don't belong on the road, even though state law says they have rights," Wall said. "Bikes are a really safe transportation mode. The more people who choose to bike, the safer the city will be for bicycling."
Gilbert Martinez, an assistant professor of media law at Texas State University who also serves on the boards of regional-planning think tank Envision Central Texas and the 1,500-member Austin Cycling Association, as well as recently joined Yellow Bike's representative council said he sees Yellow Bike playing a crucial role in Austin, applying to "so much of what we consider to be problematic." As he put it, "[I]f you're out of shape, feel run down, are upset about the environment, or frustrated by traffic the work that Yellow Bike does could be the answer."
While the city and Yellow Bike haven't reached any concrete relocation deals, directives from City Hall indicate strong support for securing YBP a new home as the wrecking ball draws closer. Nonnie Nalls, a senior property agent with the city's Public Works Department, said she's "still in the process of trying to locate a site" and that her department director instructed her to "talk with YBP and help find them a relocation site." YBP's relocation prospects started picking up when the city's Urban Transportation Commission passed a resolution last October recommending that council make the relocation happen. After that, Schaffer said, volunteers had a productive meeting with Rich Bailey, the mayor's chief of staff, followed by site-hunting trips with Nalls.
Such efforts are in the city's best interest. As Martinez put it, "The city talks about supporting a richer Downtown core where people walk and cycle. To demonstrate support for Yellow Bike would be a feather in their cap and show they're serious."
Yellow Bike is throwing a party to celebrate its 10th birthday: from 5pm to 12mid Saturday, May 19, at Ben's Long Branch Bar-B-Q, 900 E. 11th. The fiesta will feature early kids events crazy bikes to ride, water balloons to throw, and face-painters as well as eight bands worth of music, a variety of beers, barbecue, movies, and a Yellow Bike release. Proceeds will help support the continued work of the Yellow Bike Project.
For more info, including shop hours, see www.austinyellowbike.org. For a full list of Bike Month activities going on through the end of May, see www.austincycling.org./bike_month.html.