by Steve Heath, Educator/Catalyst, East Bay Met School

(Introducing Bike Newport Youth Enterprise as a 2011 Change Accelerator Venture to Social Venture Partners RI on March 3, 2011, at the Seamen’s Church Institute in Newport)

What exactly is BikeNewport?  It is the fermentation of thoughts from many people, and many of us haven’t even met yet.

The fermentation of thoughts one gets when cycling along safe and scenic byways in other parts of the world and you wonder, “why can’t Newport can’t be this bicycle friendly? The truth is New York, Philadelphia, Paris and Chicago are more bicycle friendly then here. Why can’t we do it with bike paths and bike sharing?”

It is the fermentation from thoughts when one gets from working in Newport Heights and noticing many children don’t have bikes, don’t know how to ride bikes and have limited means to transportation to out-of-school activities.  Hey, lots of people throw away bikes, why can’t we teach kids how to fix discarded bikes and then show them how accessible this area is in on two wheels, and give them a bike for the effort and interest?

And why can’t we have a “community bike shop” where repairs are affordable and people can learn how to fix their own bikes if they choose. Or how about making some wild and fun bikes? Right now we are making animal bikes at school to ride in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. Bikes inspire innovation. Let’s get the in the shop and create.

Imagine students learning about safe, and healthy, routes to school as part of an in-school curriculum.  Bicycles can help us beat obesity.

And what about fun rides? Imagine a bunch of us riding through town, from the north end to the south end, clicking through the point, along Thames, east to big homes, picking up folks of all ages along the way, weaving our way back north, Annandale, Rhode Island Ave, Hillside, starting where we began and doing it one more time to make sure everyone we picked up got home safely. And all this with a police escort. Wouldn’t that be fun?

And while we are at it why don’t we take kids mountain biking in Arcadia, exploring along the East Bay and Blackstone paths? Let’s ride.

Who is going to pay for it all? We are. Our goal is generate income repairing bicycles, and training youth to give bicycle tours and run a bicycle rental business that operates from 5-10 stations, much the way bike sharing works in larger cities, at strategic locations, including Jamestown.

Recent surveys about Rhode Island as a tourist destination said we need to develop “experiences.” We will deliver. Imagine visitors enjoying Cliff Walk from north to south ending up at Bailey’s Beach, grabbing a bike at a station there, cycling back to town, dropping their bike at the visitors’ center, enjoying the waterfront, before making the one way trip, by bike or bus, back to Easton’s Beach. Bike stations could transform the Newport experience.

Many of you will say the area isn’t safe for bikes. We know it is beautiful, but safe, hmmm? This is the chicken and the egg problem. Do we wait until we have ribbons of bike lanes and routes obvious and safe for anyone from 8 to 80, or do our ambitious plans accelerate actions towards a safer cycling area? Advocacy is part of our mission. Our guides will travel the safest routes. Maybe bike lanes are not long on coming in our major arteries, especially if the Newport experience demands it. I guess the chicken came first. We will ride. We must ride. Heck, the price of gas will drive us to two wheels. Let’s get he show on the road.

Finally, however, none of this will happen if we are not able to work together across the spectrum of public employees, elected officials, volunteers, educators, business people, entrepreneurs, children and adults. BikeNewport is about cooperation, about developing a program that creates opportunities and improves the quality of life.