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Hello, Cris and Geoffery and everyone else. My nane is Sasha, and I'm from Torotno, too. I'm from
Torotno, but I've spent the past three years plus a little bit in the Detroit area. I lived in downtown Detroit until recently, when I moved back across the border to Windsor; I'm pregnant and I want my kid to be born in Canada.
I don't drive, and when I moved to Detroit, I knew it
was going to be a struggle to manage Motor City without a car.
There are all sorts of issues. Downtown Detroit, (like
many other poor neighbourhoods in the USA), is a food desert.
That means that there are no grocery stores, or that the
grocery stores that are here do not sell healthy food. When I first arrived, I was shocked at the number of diabetic amputatees I saw wheeling themselves around; many of them seemed to be homeless.
The best vegetables come from the weekly farmer's
market, and there are also good vegetables miles and miles away from my old neighbourhood, in Southwest Detroit, which is a very Hispanic neighbourhood.
Transit sucks. Getting food is hard. The stores that do exist often
close early, as the store owners fear the ghetto at night. They leave for their homes in suburbs like Dearborn, MI. You get out of school or work and have no where to shop; many families try to live off the terrible food you can get at gas station conveinience stores.
Sometimes there are sections of scary no-go zone
neighbourhoods inbetween you and the vegetables; the route can be fine or too dangerous at different times of day. This can change with the weather, too. Winter roads are unplowed; summer heat makes people antsy.
If you are female, the level of sexual harrassment and
threatened or actual sexual violence is profound.
A bike is essential in a neighbourhood such as this.
You are safer on your bike than you would be walking. The bike extends the available daylight in an amazing way, as you can run errands or meet friends at twilight and even at night, once you know your way around.
My bike saved my female soul, I swear. It made me
feel safe and powerful, and kept me from becoming stir crazy and too angry to function. It let me breeze past the men screaming obcenities or threatening me.
Bringing groceries home from a long way away would be
horrible without a bike and a knapsack. In winter, it still sometimes seemed too hard to even try. A bike can make all the difference, but it isn't enough to fix the problems.
Until recently, people could not use their food
stamps at farmer's markets, so even if they had had a bike, they wouldn't have been able to use it to get vegetables. The time question-- that the vegetables are only available one day a week, or during hours when the woman of the family is working at her job-- is a huge problem.
Sometimes also people don't want to cross over an
invisible neighbourhood boundery; there is gang activity, there are unwritten rules. A bike can help you go around a whole section of the city is would be better if you didn't try to go through, letting you access needed services or supplies.
I don't know how anyone copes without a bike. If you are looking for a mentor, Chris, you might
want to get in touch with some of the people who work at or run Back Alley Bikes in Detroit. Some of the best people to talk to are not actually at Back Alley these days-- after six years, some people have decidedto take a break, or to move on to try to start their own shops, or to start community shops in other neighbourhoods. I'll leave my e-mail, and you can contact me for some names.
Back Alley was the most important place in Detroit
for me. If your bike breaks down in a neighbourhood with no bike shops, you are screwed. I remember going on weird journeys out to suburbs I'd never been to just to get a new tire; the transit was so confusing.
The psychological barrier to making that trip might
be higher for a born and bred denizen of the Cass Corridor than it was for me, even though I was a disabled foreigner. I'm white, and I'm used to travelling to places I've never been, and I don't have any of the local angst about Eight Mile that xometimes seems like the only thing that city dwellers and suburbanites share.
Back Alley is an amazing place. It is one of the
most racially and economically integrated places in Detroit. It has the tools and supplies and helpers that you need to fix your bike.
If you are thinking or writing about bike cultures in
poor place, please always think about supply lines. Think about how you are going to acquire the basic things you need. It gets complicated. So much of you time is spent puzzling out how to get a tube or a patch kit or tire levers (and you need patches and new tubes at a crazy rate, due to all the broken glass all over the streets, and constantly torn up roads.) Sometimes, you are crippled without your bike for want of some simple, simple thing. You need to make friends with other people who ride bikes. You need to be a part of that informal network of reciprocal aid that allows you to survive.
The way that people teach at Back Alley is gentle,
and I've watched people who never had a good experience of school or of any other learning environment so amazed to discover their own capacities it made me want to cry. Learning how to care for your bike can heal some suprisingly deep wounds.
I suprised myself, too. Now I can fix pretty much
anything that goes wrong on my bike all by myself; I love the self sufficiency that Detroit and Back Alley inspired in me.
As I rode around town, people would shout "Hey,
Back Alley Bikes!" at me (now that I've moved, people still do this when I'm back in Detroit; being part of the bike culture make me local; in immigrant recieving areas, that is an important thing to know); it made me feel so much safer to know that I was known to all these people in my neighbourhood; it made me feel watched out for.
It was great to start recogizing the bikes of everyone
I knew when I saw them locked up around town. In a place where lots of people have no phones, you'd be amazed how easy it is to locate someone because someone else just saw their bike locked up outside someone's house or out in front of the coffee shop.
I know that other people felt safer because of me, too.
Many women friends or acquaintences would ask me if I'd ride with them when they were trying to claim for themselves some part of the city they'd been too scared to go on their own before they had a bike.
Back Alley was the centre of bike culture in Detroit
for a while; now that bike culture has more than one centre.
There are problems at the shop these days. Back Alley
deals with complex issues.
Providing safe spaces for girls and women is a huge
one. Also, women work hours that make getting to the shop difficult. (Bec brought in a Women and Trans night, like the one inovated by people at Plan B in New Orleans, but we still need more women mechanics who can volunteer, and there are other issues.)
It is hard to Earn a Bike for yourself and your two sons
when you are a working single mother with no transport who lives in the Cass Coridor. Some sort of better system has to be developed to meet the needs of these women. When my friend had her bike and the bikes of her sons all stolen she was totally devastated. She'd worked hard all winter to acquire them and to fix them up, and her heart was broken.
Back Alley serves a large male homeless population,
too. The shop is so busy on summer evenings that you have to come hours in advance and sit outside waiting to get a good spot on the waiting list so you can go in.
This makes it very hard for men who also need to go
and sit and wait to get a meal or a bed for the night. We need some sort of mobile shop to go to the shelters, or some daytime hours or hours especially designed for these men.
It is interesting that people mentioned theft. That is
a problem in Detroit. Back Alley sees a lot of stolen bikes; people try to sell them to the shop. Often, the owner of the bike will be known to the shop, and the bike will be taken from the theif and returned.
Compared to Toronto, I thought people in Detroit were
lax about locking up their bikes-- often, you'd see bikes left outside stores not locked up at all, which amazed me. On the other hand, last summer's rash of bike thefts at gunpoint was something new to me.
The city policy of scrapping bikes for metal as
opposed to taking them to some place like Back Alley provides a market for the thefts. A change in the law and local custom is needed. Bikes are stolen to get drug money, and to use to get away from the scenes of other crimes.
Cyclists need to register their bikes and report the
crimes to the police, who will laugh at you and not do anything, but who need to be educated about bikes and about how tracking bike crimes could help them deal with other, bigger crimes. I feel odd suggesting the police, but based on all the conversations I've had with people, it seems right to involve them.
Perhaps to the bike shop would be a good idea. A map
could be set up and the events plotted. Theft at gun point is a serious thing. Eventually, someone is going to be killed, and if caught, the stupid kids responsible are going to have awful experiences in prison.
Sorry about the rambling early morning notes about bike
culture in a poor neighbourhood.
There is a lot more to share, of course. Detroit's bike
cultures include fantastic art bikes, and the bike as a means of personal expression in my old neighbourhood would be a great paper for someone. (Some of us are collecting pictures for a book we may manage to create.)Detroit has a great Alley Cats race scene, and gleaner's rides, and many other bike rides. Detroit has Rock Dove Couriers (their T-shirts are coveted, and to possess one is some sort of badge of something.) Detroit has fixed gear scenesters, and old ladies with large bottoms who ride bikes decorated with plastic flowers (I see my future self in them), like any other place. If you bring your bike to the Blessing of the Low Riders in Southwest Detroit this spring, a priest will sprinkle it with holy water.
We probably all know lots about the kind of community
that bikes can foster, (including the relationship that seems to exist between bike people and community gardeners, which is a super important one in a place dealing with intense food security issues and problems), and I'm sure others share many of these issues and problems.
Cris, please consider looking to Detroit for your
On Mon, 18 Feb 2008 18:34:36 -0500 Geoffrey B email@example.com wrote:
I am from Toronto, Canada, not much use for you
I have done some research in this field. I have used Stat Can to show ridership in the suburbs. The social economic requirements of riders is evident. Its ten percent all around my city of Toronto, not faulting or fluctuating. The suburban populous ride their bikes not because they want to, but because they need to. Transit is three bucks a ride. People are forced to ride their bikes without bicycle infrastructure. It becomes evident with bike on car casualties in the suburbs and poor and migrant people riding their bikes in winter.
Toronto has a huge migrant population, they know bikes better then
anyone, they speak the universal language of bike. We work with them, they
help us with bikes and we help them with English skills.
One reason that boost bike theft is the level of impoverished ridership, the demand for used bikes on the part of the impoverished class boost bike theft. Our recycle bike groups try to under price stolen bikes for sale.
We give poor people money to volunteer in our shop, we give bikes to shelters and employment resource centers. We try to understand the
poor commuter and work to meet their needs. They can teach us allot about how the city works. Relying on public transit us madness.
Give me shout if i can help you more. Im with the www.communitybicyclenetwork.org. I worked with BIKESHARE, the yellow bike program that lends bikes out to people in need. We scrapped the program just to focus on recycling used bikes and mechanical skill sharing. We also give out free cooked food cause people think and ride better on a full tank. Hehe.
Geoffrey Bercarich York Environmental Studies firstname.lastname@example.org
On Feb 17, 2008 9:24 PM, Cris Shirley email@example.com wrote:
Hey! So I'm taking a class at Yale on Inequality and American
the writing component of the class requires that I find well
community member to work with in developing an academic paper
pages long) about how bikes help combat poverty in America. If
you would be
interested in working on this with me please email me back.
Your role would
be an adviser that would push me to create a paper that would be
to both bike collective community as a whole and to the New
Collective by meeting with me on the phone making suggestions
recommending any research that you are familiar with. (Need a
soon!) Thanks! Cris
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-- "Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia" - H.G. Wells