In an old supermarket space in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, a diverse community of bicycle aficionados are getting greasy. Young and old, Latino and white, they are truing wheels and replacing cables and adjusting brakes in L.A.’s newest, and completely unplanned, bike co-op.
Volunteers' meeting, Bici Libre. Photo: Jonny Green, LACBC Bike Wrangler
Bici Libre, as it’s called, got its start when the County Cycling Collaborative received a stimulus grant of $200,000 to spruce up “stray” bikes, with the help of volunteers gaining job skills. They rented the vacant grocery store to be just a warehouse to store the old bikes, but it quickly evolved into a hub of bicycle education, advocacy, and community.
But Bici Libre could disappear as quickly as it materialized. The stimulus grant that funds it runs out next March, and the CCC doesn’t know how – or if – it’ll be able to keep the new bike co-op alive.
Bici Libre is just one of many potential casualties of the boom-and-bust stimulus cycle. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act breathed life into countless worthy projects, including many planning and education programs that promote green transportation, but they can’t all last forever. Some, like Bici Libre, are now scrounging for future funding. Others may just close up shop.
In Portland, for example, the Bureau of Transportation expanded its Smart Trips program, where people can order information about transit that runs through their neighborhood, a bike kit, a walking kit, or information about carpooling. A customized packet of information is then delivered to them by bicycle, along with a calendar of events like group rides for seniors or women.
Eight hundred thousand dollars of stimulus money launched a Smart Trips program for new residents and helped augment the programs that worked with schools and businesses. But that money will be spent soon. “Smart Trips to School is probably going to disappear,” said Marni Glick of PBOT. “The New Resident Program will probably disappear. And we will try to find funding for the Smart Trips Business.”
A pot of stimulus money called CPPW (Communities Putting Prevention to Work), distributed through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, aims to reduce obesity through nutrition and physical activity. Another branch of its work focuses on smoking cessation. The money is granted to city and state public health departments, which then partner with local nonprofits to carry out the work.
Several active transportation projects got funded this way, including Philadelphia’s Safe Routes Philly program, which “promotes biking and walking as fun, healthy forms of transportation in Philadelphia Elementary Schools.” The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia joined forces with the school district, the health department and the Food Trust (a local nonprofit working on nutrition issues) to start a campaign for healthier schools, funded at $680,000 over two years, thanks to the stimulus.