This summer, just a few months after their big, annual Spring Ride, our friends at Bike Ypsi will be celebrating their sixth anniversary of pedal-powered awesomeness. In light of that accomplishment, I thought that I should reach out to Natalie Holbrook and Kristen Cuhran, who were instrumental in wrangling together this highly-motivated pack of bicycle activists, and ask them a few questions about the group’s accomplishments thus far, the state of bike culture in Ypsi, and what the future likely holds… Here’s our interview… [note: Bob Krzewinski, the father of the Border to Border Trail, also stops by to answer one of the questions toward the end.]
MARK: So, Bike Ypsi is getting ready to celebrate a big anniversary, right?
NATALIE: Yep. This year we will celebrate our fifth Spring Ride, and this August is our sixth year of being together as an oddball group of people dedicated to populating the streets with people on bicycles.
MARK: And what do you have planned to mark the occasion?
NATALIE: We are calling our Spring Ride our Fifth Anniversary Spectacular. We have two different rides planned for the morning of May 6th. One ride is around 15 miles and the other is a little more than 30 miles. Registration for rides and free tune ups begin at 9:00 AM, and the rides roll out at 10:00. For folks who are not interested in riding either of those distances, we will have a BBQ, a bike photo booth, bicycle decorating, and Bike Polo starting at 11:30. And, then, at 1:00, we will gather up all of the people with bicycles and parade around the neighborhood. We want to get as many people as humanly possible out on bicycles for this spectacular day. We’ve actually started a “causes” petition online – a kind of challenge to the community to get out of their homes and onto a bicycle seat, if even for just a half hour.
MARK: Is Ypsi more bike friendly now than it was 5 years ago?
NATALIE: I’d say so. When I think of “bike friendly,” I think of more and more people using their bicycles for transportation and fun, and being respected by motorists while riding. And, I have definitely seen an increase in bicycle traffic. New folks come out to various Bike Ypsi events quite regularly, and, when you have 1, 2 or 3 new people at multiple events, the overall numbers of riders on the streets around town start to really add up. Plus, we always get 30 to 40 new people at our big events every year.
MARK: What do the next five years hold for Bike Ypsi? Are there local changes in traffic enforcement that you’d like to see made, for instance? Are there new educational initiatives that you’d like to roll out?
KRISTEN: Dreaming big… I’d like to see Bike Ypsi become a co-op, or some sort of hybrid business model. I think it would be neat to be able to hire a part-time person to coordinate some of our efforts. I would love to see us get more involved with bigger initiatives, like bike shares, or (remember, I’m dreaming big here!) a community repair/education space like the Plan B bike shop in New Orleans. In a different direction, I’d like to see us step up our “tour” aspect. We do awesome tours – the Taco Tour, the Heavy Metal Tour, the Cider and Doughnut Tour, to name a few – but I think it would be cool to also have some sightseeing tours (with written-up blurbs about places). Haunted houses in Ypsilanti; Historic tours (where was the underwear factory? The Black Diamond Brewery? The Springs?); Ypsilanti bars – who knows – I just like tours. Community groups could even hire us to take them out on tours.
I’d also like to see Bike Ypsi playing a larger role in educating people about cycling- the rules (laws), the benefits (to your community, the environment, your body), etc. Maybe that just means working further with the LMB (League of Michigan Bicyclists) or WBWC (Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition) or GetDowntown. I just think it’s so important to educate everyone about things like “invisible cyclists” (those folks you might see riding the wrong way down Washtenaw Ave- who often don’t have lights or helmets). There’s also education that can be done with folks just getting out of prison (actually, Natalie, through her work at the American Friends Service Committee’s Michigan Criminal Justice Program, developed a really neat and succinct pamphlet that she sends to people in prison who she knows will be getting out soon). And there are cyclists who might have “the gear” but don’t know road rules. We could do K-12 youth education, contribute to drivers ed classes, and launch billboard and bus campaigns educating motorists as to what the laws are.
NATALIE I see more and more people riding bicycles and less and less people driving vehicles that consume fossil fuel.
MARK: I’m assuming you’ve done everything thus far on next to no budget. Is that the case, or do you have grants? And, assuming you don’t have grants, are there grants out there that you could go after? And, if so, I’m curious as to what you’d like to do if you had the money. What would Bike Ypsi look like with a budget? Have you given it any thought?
NATALIE: Good questions. Bike Ypsi is not a non-profit (does that equal a double negative?). We are a community-based group solely run on the sweat, tears, and laughter of volunteers. We have a small budget that we have accumulated from t-shirt sales, donations for food and supplies at events, and other sales (like our table at the Shadow Art Fair – all proceeds from which went to Bike Ypsi, except our costs for the creation of the items that we sold). So, initially, some of us invested our money into t-shirts and stickers, and then Bike Ypsi made the cash back with a little extra. We function with a budget of $800-1000… which is awesome, because we need that money to print posters, buy food for our BBQ (to fill in the holes where we don’t get donations), buy a new supply of Bike Ypsi t-shirts to then sell (so that we can keep our coffers full), and pay for other things, like the $65 Rec Park pavilion rental, and the $500 security deposit.
We do not have grants. If we could have a little more cash to work with, it would be great to be able to buy helmets to give out at all of our events. We’ve had big helmet donations in the past, but the same sources do not have a permanent supply for us to distribute. If I could dream big, I would love to see a community bicycle shop and advocacy organization (with some pieces of it similar to the Hub of Detroit ) here in Ypsi. I think it would be awesome if we could impact a lot of children in Ypsi, and have some kind of crazy goal, like having 200 Ypsilanti kids able to change their own bicycle tubes by the age 10 or 11.
MARK: What’s the worst stretch of pavement for bikes in Ypsilanti, and what can we, as a community, do about it?
NATALIE: I personally think Cross Street between Mansfield and Washtenaw is the ultimate death trap for a person on a bicycle. (I think the West Cross Street section is slated for a rebuild.) North Huron from Forest to Hewitt is also a rough, rough street.
Some ways to get involved and have a voice: As a community member, you could attend a Washtenaw County Road Commission meeting to see what they’re all about, and what their agenda is year to year. Many meetings have time for public comment.
Ypsilanti also has a Non-Motorized Advisory Committee that meets regularly. So, citizens can get involved and impact change that way. The next NMAC meeting is April 19th.
MARK: How’s the Border to Border Trail coming along?
BOB: From Cornell Street all the way into Ann Arbor, the Trail is off-road (except for street crossings) and completed. Through Ypsilanti itself, the Trail is currently on-road with directional signs posted. Maps for the eastern Washtenaw County segment of the B to B are available at Ypsilanti Cycle and City Hall.
On the Trail crossing from Riverside Park south into the Water Street development area, the State Of Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation both indicated that there were serious environmental problems with a non-motorized bridge going between the two properties. With this in mind, the City of Ypsilanti and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission are working together on an alternative route that would build a non-motorized bridge from the south end of Riverside Park across the Huron River to meet up with the east end of the Michigan Avenue bridge, and then cross Michigan Avenue at the street level. To aid people crossing Michigan Avenue, a High-Intensity Activated crossWalK beacon (HAWK) is being reviewed for installation, which would stop traffic for non-motorized users. Funds for this bridge crossing would be from a State of Michigan Land Trust Fund grant as well as funds from the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and Downtown Development Association.
Also, the City of Ypsilanti has an application in for another Michigan Land Trust Fund grant, with matching funds promised by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, to complete a permanent paved Border To Border Trail section from Michigan Avenue south along the north shore of the Huron River to Grove Road. This would then tie in to a completed section of the Trail in Ypsilanti Township along Grove Road east to Bridge Road.
While the completion of the Border To Border Trail through Ypsilanti will be a benefit to local residents using the path for recreation and non-motorized transportation, it is also hoped that the Trail will help spur development in the Water Street area. Around the U.S., similar urban trails have a proven track record of being looked upon by developers as a huge asset. It should also be noted that other than City Of Ypsilanti Planning Department staff time on the Trail projects, no City funds are being used in the Trail construction.
For more information on the Border To Border Trail, including newsletters and maps, you can visit the Friends Of The Border To Border Trail website.
MARK: Back to Bike Ypsi, when you look back on the last six years, what are some of the things you’re most proud of?
KRISTEN: The amount that we’ve accomplished in 5 years solely by volunteer effort. Off of the top of my head…. 5 Fall Rides, soon to be 5 Spring Rides and Festivals, weekly Sunday rides (year around), 4 Taco Tours, 2 Heavy Metal Tours, 1 Espresso Tour, 4 years of working on the Ann Arbor May Commuter Week Challenge and coordinating a Bike to Work Day, 2 years of Friday morning rides (year round), 2 summers of Metro Park Rides, 3 summers of Saturday B2B and/or Family Friendly Rides, cycling talks at a local elementary school, RAT rides, we’ve had a Bike Ypsi group presence in at least 4 Ypsilanti parades (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Heritage Fest), “Broom the Bridge” (a guerilla clean up effort by 10 or so Bike Ypsi members), renegade pot hole marking, 2 years at Shadow Art Fair, designing and printing bicycle handouts…. not to mention what we’ve worked with others on- Cranksgiving, the Cider and Doughnut Tours, cycling talks at Ypsi Cycle, 4 years of doing the route planning and bicycle leading for Growing Hope’s Tour De Fresh, planning for and picking the designs for Ypsilanti’s bike hoops, working with the Ypsilanti Police on the “no bicycling” signs, securing volunteers at Heritage Fest bike parking and bike table. I’m sure I’ve forgotten other events and advocacy efforts.