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Gas pedals to bike pedals

Bikeatoga advocates for, supports riders

Saturday, April 13, 2013
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Gas pedals to bike pedals


Mark Meinrenken, a volunteer with Bike-a-Toga, repairs one of 120 donated bikes during a bike repair workshop at St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs on April 13, 2013.
Photographer: Kayla Galway
Mark Meinrenken, a volunteer with Bike-a-Toga, repairs one of 120 donated bikes during a bike repair workshop at St. Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs on April 13, 2013.

— The basement of St. Peter’s Church on Broadway is full of bikes — in all sizes, shapes and conditions.

Bikeatoga volunteers are busy fixing some of the 10-speeds and children’s one-speeds so they can be given away to people willing to spend six hours in the organization’s Earn-A-Bike program.

That means those getting a free, recycled bike must spend six hours in the basement workshop fixing the bikes they select and repairing other bikes.

“In our workshop, we are bursting at the seams,” said Doug Haller of Saratoga Springs, Bikeatoga co-chairman.

He said 140 bikes were donated April 6 at the organization’s Bike Recycle Day at Eastern Mountain Sports in Wilton. Mark Meinrenken works at the EMS store and learned about the program when people started dropping off the bikes last week.

“I came in to work that day and saw a whole lot of bikes,” he said.

Meinrenken came to the bike workshop last week to find a road bike for himself. He selected a dark blue 10-speed that he will clean and repair, and then start helping to repair other bikes.

“I will be working on kids’ bikes after I’m done with mine,” Meinrenken said at Thursday’s workshop.

Bikeatoga, formerly known as the Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, was founded in 2005.

The grass-roots organization advocates for a better, safer and more functional bicycling environment in Saratoga Springs. Recycling bikes is part of that effort.

The bike workshop in the church basement (reached from the Hamilton Street side of the church) is just one of the things Bikeatoga does.

“We are a local bike advocacy group. We encourage people to use bikes for everyday use, functional biking, to run errands, to get to work,” Haller said. “It’s environmentally sound, and healthwise, it’s great.”

Haller, who works for the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Rotterdam, sometimes brings his bike on a CDTA bus, rides the bus to downtown Schenectady, and then rides his bike to his Rotterdam office.

Maureen Roberts, a doctor at Saratoga Hospital and a Bikeatoga member, said she rides to work on her bike, except when it’s snowing or raining heavily.

She said the organization’s Holiday Kids Bike Giveaway last December was a big success, as well as a teaching moment. She said parents and children are thrilled with their new bikes but also listen to a talk on bike safety. The children are also each given a new bike helmet, courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension.

“The Christmas bike giveaway gives us three to five minutes of teaching,” Roberts said.

Bikeatoga will sponsor its Spring Kids Bike Give-Away from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 4 in the church basement. There are dozens of gently used children’s bikes of all types and sizes available.

The organization will again sponsor the Saratoga Bike-to-Work Challenge on May 17, which is part of the national Bike to Work Day on that same date. Teams are forming to compete in a variety of events.

Haller said Bikeatoga is not affiliated with St. Peter’s Church but appreciates the space made available by the Roman Catholic church at 241 Broadway.

“We get the bikes cleaned up, make sure there is air in the tires, make sure they are safe,” Haller said about the workshops, which are conducted from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

Roland Laffert of Wilton said he enjoys biking and heard about Bikeatoga through the Bike Recycle Day. He doesn’t need a bike but likes the idea of helping to fix the bikes for other people.

“I always wanted to do something like this,” Laffert said about volunteering to repair bikes. “I will donate some of my time, a couple of Saturday mornings and some evenings. It’s a worthwhile cause.”

Matt Snowball, 36, originally from Hadley but now living in Saratoga Springs, said he heard about the free bikes from friends. He agreed to the Earn-A-Bike program because he wants to replace an older bike he has been riding with a newer model.

“Right now, I have to ride my bike because my truck is broke,” Snowball said.

Haller said Bikeatoga has about 450 people on its email list, but only about 20 active members who regularly attend meetings.

Bikeatoga advocates for better conditions on city streets and roadways for bicycles. The organization supports the city’s adoption of the Complete Streets policy approved by the City Council last spring.

The group also strongly supports the Greenbelt proposal that would link existing bike and pedestrian trails in the city, creating a 10- to 12-mile trail around the city.

“We hope to see the Greenbelt trail at least adopted [by the city],” Roberts said.

She said creating the linkages for the trail system would take a number of years to complete and require public and private funding.

Roberts and other Bikeatoga members have attended Complete Streets advisory committee meetings in City Hall urging that the city require bikeways along roadways when they are upgraded and repaired.

A major reconstruction project is planned next spring on Ballston Avenue from Union Street to Lincoln Avenue. Bikeatoga has urged that sidewalks and bikeways be incorporated in this state and federally financed upgrade.

The latest plans do include sidewalks on both sides of Ballston Avenue as well as a traffic signal at Lincoln Avenue and Ballston Avenue, according to city officials.

Roberts applauded the city for obtaining a federal Safe Routes to School grant through the state Department of Transportation that will allow students attending Geyser Crest Elementary School to bike to school.

Kate Maynard, the city’s principal planner, said Bikeatoga is part of the advocacy community that encourages the city to provide better access for bicycles.

Maynard said the city is developing a checklist through its Complete Streets initiative that will require developers to look at existing road conditions near their projects and consider improvements to help pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

The Complete Streets concept calls for developers and the city to improve a street so it “serves all users,” including pedestrians, bicyclists and disabled people. Roberts said she hopes the city and developers will “honor that checklist and promise to adhere to Complete Streets,” a national program.

She said when South Broadway was reconstructed several years ago, the city lost an opportunity to add bike lanes. She said she would have liked to have seen either off-road or on-road bicycle lanes on wide shoulders with shared lane markings painted on the shoulders to guide bike riders and motorists.

Bikeatoga meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month upstairs at Irish Times, 14 Phila St. Those seeking to keep current with Bikeatoga can email info@bikeatoga.org and ask to be added to its email list.

 
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