A new neighborhood bike/walk center will open its doors to the community this week: SPOKES Bike Walk Connect. SPOKES, which is a program of the Seward Neighborhood Group with major funding from Bike Walk Twin Cities, will host a grand opening on Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 4:30 p.m. The community resource will provide a variety of services, including classes, open shops, a bike “library,” an earn-a-bike program and community rides, to name a few.
SPOKES is located at 1915 E. 22nd St. in Minneapolis – one block south of Franklin Ave., 1 block west of Minnehaha Ave., and 1 block off of the Hiawatha LRT bike trail at 22nd Street (also near the Hiawatha LRT station at Franklin). SPOKES is open to everyone in the community, with a special focus on connecting with the East African communities in the area.
Sheldon Mains, director of SPOKES, took a break from preparing for the grand opening to answer a few questions about the center, its features and who it will serve.
There are many other bike shops in the Twin Cities; what makes the location of SPOKES special?
There are a lot of bike shops in the Twin Cities. There are also a number of community bike centers in the Twin Cities. SPOKES is unique because while our services and programs are open to all, SPOKES is working specifically to help East Africans in the Seward, Cedar-Riverside and Phillips neighborhoods of Minneapolis bike and walk more. Our aim is to grow a more diverse and informed community of non-motorized transit users.
Why is SPOKES needed?
There were three things that prompted trying to start a Bike Walk community center in the area:
1) About four years ago, Seward went though a community planning process that primarily focused on the Seward portion of Franklin Avenue. This planning included a lot of public participation, including significant participation from the East African immigrant community in Seward. One of the goals everyone agreed on was to make Seward a bike- and pedestrian-friendly area.
2) As a follow-up to that planning, Seward Redesign (the Community Development Corporation in the area) conducted a survey asking what kept people from biking. Unease about riding in traffic, the expense of buying a bike and “never learning how to ride” were top reasons people gave for not biking. This was especially true for the East African immigrants in the neighborhood.
3) In late 2010, Bike Walk Twin Cities called for community-based ideas for non-motorized transit. This looked like a great opportunity to address some of the issues that stop people from biking in our area. After talking with our neighboring communities, we expanded the project to include the Phillips and Cedar Riverside communities, in addition to Seward.
Who do you hope uses SPOKES?
Our programs are open to everyone, but we are initially concentrating on helping the East African communities in the Cedar-Riverside, Phillips and Seward neighborhoods of Minneapolis.
How is SPOKES planning to serve this population? What is the community and cultural significance of this effort?
The second staff member we hired was Abdiasis Hirsi (Abdi), our community outreach coordinator. Abdi immigrated to the United States in 2005, has a degree from the University of Minnesota, is a resident of the Seward Towers, and just learned to bike. We’ve already had one adult learn-to-ride class with the East African Community. For the last two years, we’ve participated in Cycles for Change’s Community Partners Bike Lending Library, including last year, with 15 East African participants. This year, there were 40 people interested in that program, but only 15 bikes available. For the grand opening, we’ll be promoting it at local mosques and East African shopping malls.
How were those in the community previously accessing bike-related services? Or were they at all?
A lot of people in this area are not biking. This is especially true in communities where few people bike – people don’t have friends to turn to for answers. We have found there are a lot of barriers that people don’t think about. For example: not knowing what kind of bike to get, the cost of a new bike, not knowing how to ride a bike, not knowing how to ride in traffic.
What sort of services will SPOKES provide?
- Classes – we’ve already had our first adult learn-to-ride class. Fourteen Somali and Oromo men and women participated. We’ll be holding a four-week adult learn-to-ride class series on Wednesday evenings, starting Sept. 12. Other riding classes will include sessions on riding in traffic, commuting and riding in winter. We will also have classes in bike mechanics, ranging from fixing a flat and basic bike tune-up to building a bike.
- Community Bike Library – Starting next spring, SPOKES will be rehabbing used bikes and loaning them (with helmets, locks and lights) to low-income residents for the summer.
- Low-cost used bikes for sale – Again, starting next spring, SPOKES will offer reconditioned used bikes for sale at affordable prices.
- Earn-a-bike – This winter, SPOKES will start an earn-a-bike program. People will be able to earn a bike by volunteering at SPOKES – part of this program will help them build their own bike – and learning how to maintain the bike they receive.
- Open Shop hours – We will provide access to a complete bike repair and retail shop (courtesy of The Hub) – with a mechanic to guide people – for people who want to fix their own bike. We will start with an open shop from 1-5 p.m. every Saturday in September.
- Open Shop for women only – To ensure a welcoming space that avoids gender barriers, SPOKES will have a women-only open shop the fourth Monday of each month. This will be in partnership with Grease Rag, a Twin Cities organization that helps empower female bicyclists.
- Nice Ride scholarships – Nice Ride has provided SPOKES with 25 scholarships to cover its $65 annual subscription. These scholarships are going to local residents from East Africa.
- Youth Junior Bike Mechanics Classes – Sometime this winter, SPOKES plans on offering a multi-week after-school program for youth to learn basic bike mechanics skills.
- Community Rides – Starting on Sept. 8, SPOKES will offer community rides for the whole family – with bikes available to use for the ride. These will be relaxed, 4- to 8-mile rides to different locations in the area. Along the way, we’ll throw in suggestions to improve your biking enjoyment.
- Walking Promotion – Bikes may be our primary aspect but SPOKES will also work to promote walking as transportation – promoting community walking activities and working to improve safety for walkers.
What will be SPOKES’ hours?
We’re just starting out and will be increasing hours over the next few months.
- Open shop hours are Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.
- Volunteer night is every Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m.
- Adult learn-to-ride classes are every Wednesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Matthews Park (29th Avenue South and 24th Street East)
- Community Rides are every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon
- Women-only Open Shop will be the 4th Monday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m.
Ultimately, what is the long-term goal of SPOKES?
The goal of SPOKES is to continue to grow a more diverse and informed community of non-motorized transit users by working with communities that do not currently use biking and walking for transportation. Our goal is to have an active biking and walking community that includes a significant East African population by the end of the second year of operation. We view the Bike Walk Twin Cities Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program funding as our start-up funding. We plan to continue long after that two-year funding runs out.