In an age of constant mobility, speed is essential. Walking isn’t fast enough, buses get packed and cars are expensive to maintain. The cheaper and more environmentally friendly solution is to get a bike.
The Bike Project originally started with a group of residents from Allen Hall who wanted to start a bike-sharing program in 2006. However, due to logistical conflicts, that particular project fell through. Still wishing to work on bikes, the students started workshops in garages and eventually rented out the basement space under the Independent Media Center in Urbana, which is the site of the co-op to this day.
In addition to bike repair and sales, the co-op offers a wide number of services to the community. Its biggest program is “Build-a-Bike.” This program allows people to select a bicycle in disrepair from their storage, fashion it with new parts and purchase the completed bike at a significantly discounted rate. The project currently receive most of its discarded bikes from police auctions.
“We are actually not a hands-on bike shop. We’re hands-off,” said Carl Stewart, part-time manager of the Bike Project. “We want the people who come in to work with their own hands. To have to walk someone through verbally, without touching the tools, requires a lot of patience. But … all of a sudden, something will click. And that’s really nice to see in a person.”
Last March, the Bike Project added a campus branch in the Natural Resources Building garage. This was in response to the University’s Climate Action Plan, which sought to reduce the number of cars on the roads and parking spaces occupied and encourage biking as a means of transportation. Indeed, the campus has started to see an increase in bike-riding. Stewart believes this turn towards bikes is largely caused by the poor state of the economy.
“The price of gas was pretty high last year,” said Stewart. “A lot of folks either decided to take the bus or get a bike and not deal with driving.”
Stewart also thinks that parking fees should be increased to encourage people to bike or that a bike tax should be implemented for safer and more improved campus infrastructure, like covered bike parking and a card key swipe system for students’ bicycles.
“Even though the University of Illinois was, like, the first university to have a bike path system in the ‘70s, they kind of dropped the ball on that,” said Stewart.
Both Stewart and Cem Onyuksel, a U of I graduate student and regular volunteer at the Bike Project, said that the current bike path system could be greatly improved, especially along Green Street in campus town.
Stewart said that the community could also be more environmentally friendly.
”I am honestly still pretty horrified that they’re not more efficient at doing things here,” he said. “Champaign only just got recycling, and my hometown in North Carolina has had it for years.”
Whether you’re a resident or a student, there’s a lot to be gained from getting to know the Bike Project. Especially if you’re a bike lover, getting involved with the co-op not only guarantees you’ll learn something new — you’ll also get to meet some of the friendly and welcoming people of our community.
“Get a bike, meet new people, get a healthier lifestyle,” said Stewart.
Want to find out how to be more eco-friendly? Check out the217.com’s new column, The Village Green. Every other week, learn about how our community is getting cleaner and greener!