Yellow Bike Project Rolls Into New Home
Nonprofit collective adds community programs to its mission
The yellow bikes are back.
Actually, to be more accurate, the Yellow Bike Project is back, after a two-year semihiatus that rendered the organization almost nonexistent. Yesterday (Wednesday), the YBP held a ribbon-cutting at its new headquarters (1216 Webberville Rd.), and on Saturday, May 1, 4-8pm, the public is invited to a grand opening celebration to show off the facility that will house its rebirth.
You might remember Yellow Bike – in its original incarnation, the nonprofit collective patched up old bikes, painted them yellow, and left them unattended around the city in utopian hopes of creating a fleet of community bicycles unchained on the streets, for anyone to use. YBP still lets loose yellow bikes, but its mission emphasis has shifted more toward bicyclist education and empowerment, offering the public a place to learn about bike maintenance and repair as well as safe riding practices.
For 10 years, the nonhierarchical collective operated out of a city-owned warehouse on East 51st Street, but in 2007, the incoming Mueller redevelopment project forced them out. The organization's existence was seriously jeopardized, but YBP volunteer and treasurer Jennifer Schaffer said then-City Manager Toby Futrell came to the rescue.
"We went to the Urban Transportation Commission," says Schaffer, "and they made a recommendation to the City Council to help us get a space. And so we started working with the real estate department at the city and looked and looked and looked, and there really just wasn't the space available. I kind of felt like we got put on the back burner, and then an article came out in the Chronicle ["Yellow Bike Project Turns 10," May 18, 2007], and Toby read that and said, 'Hey, I thought you guys were helping them finding a space.'" With Futrell's backing, the search began again. No buildings were available, "but then we said, 'Hey, do you guys have any land, because we could probably just build something,'" Schaffer says.
"And we had no idea what we were talking about," Schaffer says, laughing. "We were like, 'A metal structure – it will be easy.' It turns out it's a lot more complicated than you might think. ... Had we known what we were getting into, we might have been scared."
But, many permits, utility installations, and $300,000 later – and with help from architect Andrew Clements, real estate professional Mike McHone, and engineer June Routh – the mission was accomplished. Now YBP has a facility slightly larger than its Mueller space and definitely larger than the 20-foot-by-8-foot shipping container that had been its interim location. Built on three-quarters of an acre formerly housing an Austin Energy substation, the facility has a 4,000-square-foot workspace, day-lighting, a passive heating and cooling design, 10,000 gallons of rainwater collection, a community garden, a low-water landscape, and a partnership with AE for the first solar energy roof lease in Austin.
"Almost all of our parts and bikes were in storage," says Schaffer of the past two years. "We had to work outside, in the heat, and we had to cut programs such as the earn-a-bike program.
"We're coming from really just being a repair shop," said Schaffer. "That's all we could do the past two years – and some used bike sales. In the new space, we'll be able to offer more bikes, or you can have the yellow bikes for free, or you can have the earn-a-bike for volunteer time. And then also we'll have the classes that we in the past offered. We'll have enrollment-only classes – say, if you don't do well in this free-form environment of an open shop and need a little more attention, you can sign up for a class on bike repair.
"In the little space we weren't able to offer any community programs," Schaffer adds. "In the new space we'll offer kids' classes. We hope to have kids' camp in the summer, where you can learn not only how to fix bikes but how to ride them safely and get around your neighborhood, look at bike maps and find the right roads to ride on, and the right skills to ride safely. And that will extend to adult classes, too – I want to start up some classes so people will know how to get around town on a bike, go to the grocery store, pick the right routes so you don't end up splashed on the side of the road, and deal with car traffic."
And yes, they'll keep putting out yellow bikes. "We know they get taken," Schaffer says, "but that's fine. We just want them to get used and not end up in a landfill."