Spring has finally sprung! Suddenly our streets are filled with bikers emerging from their winter hibernation. All around the Twin Cities, Nice Ride Minnesota stations are popping up. I love that the bicycles are the same bold and vivid green of the tulips and daffodils pushing forth from the thawing earth this time of year. Next month is National Bike Month. To get in the spirit, I would like to suggest some easy ways for churches to be more bike friendly.
1. Provide a bike map to the church on your website. Too often the only directions supplied on websites are for those who are driving. By not including maps and directions for other modes of transit, you’ve automatically created an extra step (and inadvertent hurdle) for anyone who might be limited to or prefer an alternate mode of transportation for getting to the church.
2. Supply good quality and ample bike parking on your property. Please don’t simply provide a couple of bent, worn out and/or small bicycle racks that are nearly non-functional and located in discreet, weird locations. For example, the bike rack displayed on the right is terrible. If you are not well-versed in the market of bicycle racks, Dero has a great bike parking guide to help you determine what is best suited for your bikers and your site.
3. Install a bike repair station on your property. I have often thought, “How cool would it be if there was a whole network of churches in a city that had repair stations on their properties?!” This would be a great service to provide the local community with access to tools, air pumps, etc. Bike repair stations are a reasonably priced investment for any church to make. In Minneapolis, there is a local company, Bike Fixtation that has some great options for commercial grade, secure outdoor repair stations.
I also recently met a local neighborhood bike advocate who initiated a call for artists to design a station. I love this idea because it makes the process a community engagement effort as well. And, if we had a network of churches installing these anyone who encounters a flat or other breakdown could use Google Maps to find the nearest church for accessing a repair station. I’d even suggest making an app for that!
4. Support the local bike-share program. Most bike-share programs are non-profit private/public partnerships. The placement of new stations and the upkeep of existing stations is partly dependent on the volunteer help and financial support of local citizens and groups. Find out if your city has a bike share program and explore ways you might be able to help out as a church. You might even find you can help sponsor a station to be located on or nearby your property.
5. Plan a Bike to Church day! During National Bike Month, there are day events such as Bike to School and Bike to Work. What if you helped start the movement among churches with a city-wide Bike to Church day? I am hoping that my organization, Proximity Project can pilot something like this in the Twin Cities soon. Don’t know how to begin? The League of American Bicyclists has a great guide to get you started on planning this type of event in your community.
One of the biggest barriers to biking is the fear of the unknown. For folks with little to no biking experience, questions such as these loom large: What route do I take? What are the rules of the road? How do I manage traffic? Is there bike parking available where I am going? Many of these road blocks can be easily overcome if people ride together with the more experienced bikers leading the way and showing the ropes to those who may be more intimidated.
Organizing a Bike to Church day would provide an opportunity for members of your church to learn the route within the safety and comfort of biking with others, to gain some street knowledge about biking and the rules of the road, and to experience the joy of getting somewhere by leg power! Helping people overcome their initial fears is the best step towards getting more people on board with biking.
6. Host a bike rodeo! Say what?! I grew up in Texas. We rodeo in Texas. And, we have bike rodeos. In 5th grade, I won the bike rodeo at my school. I thought these were only in Texas because we like roping anything down there. Turns out that bike rodeos are a thing. Bike rodeos are obstacle courses set up to help young bikers learn better balance, maneuvering, agility, etc. In short, it’s a fun way to encourage kids to become better bicyclists! Bike rodeos also typically include bicycle safety training and traffic management skills components. You need space for bike rodeos and big parking lots are awesome for this. If you are a church located in suburban America, you may be limited in good bikeable access to your church property, but you can host a bike rodeo in your parking lot and advocate for developing adept young bicyclists! Cornell University put together a guide to planning a bike rodeo for the Safe Routes program. Check it out and giddy-up!
I cannot give ideas to churches for engaging our cities for better bicycling without seeking to answer the why. Why should churches care? What does biking have to do with faith? Some major premises of the Christian faith are loving the poor and seeking the welfare of the city. I suggest that one way to love the poor is to advocate for equitable access to bicycles, to opportunities to learn bike skills, and to safe bicycle paths in every community. All of this contributes to making biking a legitimate and safe transportation option for all people.
Owning a car is expensive and a luxury that too many of us take for granted. There are many people in our cities who cannot afford a car. Good access to bicycling can be an important means to more job opportunities and better housing options for those who are dependent on alternate modes of transportation. Likewise, biking promotes an active, healthy lifestyle. Studies show that communities with good infrastructure for biking options are often at a lower risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Promoting equitable access and viable active transportation choices are just some of the ways that biking aligns with seeking the welfare of the city and the call to advance equitable human flourishing.
To explore these ideas more, my organization, Proximity Project is hosting a Bicycles, Faith & Equity Workshop on May 21 in Minneapolis. Dr. Sean Benesh, Portland-based author of The Bikeable Church, Blueprints for a Just City, and several other books, will be speaking as well as some local Twin Cities bike advocates. If you are in the area, I’d love for you to join us. Find registration details here.
(Top photo of St. Mary's Church, Philadelphia, by Bruce Anderson)