The 2013 Good To Go Commuter Challenge is underway through May 17. The Challenge is a friendly competition between individuals, teams and workplaces. During the week-long challenge, participants track and report their sustainable commutes online; anything counts except driving alone.
By Tyler Curtis, Good To Go Graduate Assistant
The popularity of the bike as a viable form of transportation and a hip tool for community building is growing rapidly. Bloomington-Normal is no different, with a growing group of bike commuters lobbying for better bike infrastructure and awareness and bikes being used as a tool to tackle other major issues in the community.
Two such issues are youth literacy and the availability of healthy, locally-grown produce. That’s where the West Bloomington Book Bike and the Illinois Wesleyan “Veggie Bike” have come in to fill the void.
The veggie bike is a project of former IWU environmental studies major Alex Kim. The bike helps provide support to IWU’s Peace Garden, whose mission is to provide locally grown produce to BloNo community members while also promoting community connectedness. The Peace Garden provides produce for Sodexo, IWU’s food provider, and for the greater Bloomington-Normal community. Alex says that the goal of the Veggie Bike is to assist the IWU Peace Garden “in its efforts to exemplify and maintain sustainable principles through practice. In short, it will help the Peace Garden be as green as possible.”
The bike took six months to complete with help from IWU’s Action Research Center (ARC). What’s great about the bike is that it is funded completely through donated materials and the labor of dedicated volunteers. The bike is still in use, and the ARC is planning to deliver the produce to the Normal trailside market during the summer and to the IWU campus market in the fall.
The Book Bike, a project of the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WBRP), had similar beginnings to the Veggie Bike, as it developed from the creativity of dedicated community residents. Bloomington City Council member and administrator of the Book Bike, Karen Schmidt, explains that numerous teachers have recounted stories to her about students who do not have access to books in their homes. “I have a hard time getting my head around a home without books,” she says, and it is for this reason that Karen has remained committed to promoting the use of the Book Bike throughout Bloomington-Normal. As she affirms, it’s all worth it when she realizes “every time a child or an adult goes home with a free book that they own, we just tipped the scales a little bit in the right direction.”
The hope is that the book bike will be brought out every weekend, weather and venue permitting. This goal would not be possible without dedicated volunteers, including IWU students, the McLean County Wheelers, and the ISU Bike Club, who are willing to ride the bike, which can weigh up to 200 pounds when fully-stocked, around the community week after week. Along with riders, the Book Bike project also relies on the generosity of book donors, including the Bloomington Public Library and various residents throughout Bloomington-Normal.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Another major bike initiative, also a project of the WBRP, is the Walk-In, Bike-Out program. The program utilizes volunteers to repair bicycles donated by community members, Illinois State University, and the Bloomington and Normal police departments and then gives those bikes away to individuals in need. There is no “needs testing” to the program; anyone who comes in and wants a bike can get one.
During the April 27, 2013 give away volunteers spent several weeks repairing the bikes and provided on-hand assistance with bike-fitting, bike lock and helmet distribution, and answering residents’ questions about bike safety and commuting, and in the end giving away more than 120 bicycles.
The much publicized National Bike to School Day bike ride, marking the grand opening of the Airport Road extension all started with the efforts of NCHS students who wanted a safer bike route to school. Efforts like next week’s Blo-No Bike Week, Ride of Silence,and Blokes & Spokes will bring more awareness to the importance of promoting bicycling as a healthy, inexpensive, and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation.
If there’s anything that initiatives like the Book Bike and Veggie Bike show is that biking isn’t just great for commuting, but bikes can also be used as powerful tools for community development.
By the way, if you need to tune up your bike but can’t find the right tool, there’s always the Tool Library.
Tyler Curtis is WGLT’s Graduate Assistant, helping to coordinate the community sustainable transportation project Good To Go. The 2013 Good To Go Commuter Challenge is underway through May 17.