Fighting Poverty with Passion
How a church in the Lower Ninth Ward is working to get more people on bike.
Creating a Biking Community
Really Wheeling is a free bike lending program started by Caffin Avenue Seventh Day Adventist in the Ninth Ward that focuses on creating a “healthy thriving community through physical activity like biking”.
Church Community Service Coordinator Royliene Johnson says it all started with a bike rack. “A member who works at Home Depot asked can the church do anything with [the bike rack]?” remembers Royliene.
Her first thought was that there aren’t many people who ride bikes, but the church could do something with it. Then, the new bike rack got her thinking, “maybe we get some bikes and start a physical activity program in the Ninth Ward. You don’t see many racks or people riding, but we can create a program that gives access to bikes and removes a barrier”.
While the idea for a bike program in the Lower Ninth Ward grew, Royliene heard that Tulane University was looking to give away bikes that had been abandoned by students on campus. The church eagerly accepted the donation of bikes which were matched with helmets given by RUBARB Community Bike Shop.
With the fleet of donated bikes, Caffin Avenue SDA created the “only free bike lending program in the Lower Ninth Ward”. In addition to lending the bikes, the church hosts free community bike rides on the first and third Sunday of the month. Royliene says they’re also working on getting bikes for people with disabilities.
Promoting Safe, Smart, Confident Bicycling
Caffin Avenue SDA church hosts the Make a Difference Day Fair, an annual community event to encourage folks to “get healthy, get active, get your ride on” and to promote the Really Wheelin program. Bike Easy was invited to be apart of the event to answer questions about bike safety, rules of the road, and general maintenance.
“Outreach and going to events is very much not necessarily waiting at Bike Easy for everyone to come to us,” says Keith, Bike Easy Community Education Manager. “It’s us getting into the community and meeting people where they’re at”.
The Bike Easy education team works with people of all ages and abilities throughout Greater New Orleans teaching them to prioritize safety whether they’re walking, on bike, or in a motor vehicle.
“Part of the reason why we have education events basically goes back to why we have a mission and our mission says making bicycling easy, safe, and fun through Greater New Orleans. Well if that’s to be true what’s helping it to be easy, safe, and fun is a certain amount of education.”
Supporting the Caffin Avenue SDA church is a way for Bike Easy to reach people where they’re at. “We’re helping out Caffin, because they’re trying to build biking culture out of the church”. Keith believes these regular rides can increase bike safety in the Lower Ninth Ward. “They want to come do our Smart Biking classes, so not only do they want to learn but they want to learn enough that they can teach others”.
In addition to educating people on bike, Bike Easy hopes to reach drivers at these community events as well.
“In talking to people [who drive] they have misconceptions about bikers rights to the road,” explains Laura, Bike Easy safety instructor. “We let them know people on bike have every right to be there, here are the reasons why, and it’s actually illegal for bikers to be on the sidewalk,” she says.
Laura says that people are often surprised at the laws that exist for bikes and a friendly conversation can help drivers realize we all play a part in sharing the road. Those who have “an open mind enough to listen and by the end of the conversation to change their mind is really heartening. It goes back to why education is so important”.
Join a Really Wheelin ride every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month at 7:30 am! For more information visit http://www.caffinavesda.org.