Celebrating New Helmets

Case Study: Rural Virginia Community Rediscovers the Joy of Bike Riding

0310161325a_resized.jpg#asset:9729In 2013, the City of Galax, a small rural community in the foothills of the Virginia Mountains, set out to build a "Bike Library" for students in their community. The idea, a brainchild of Galax City Public School's Board Chairman Ray Kohl, was to build a library for children to visit and "check out" bikes and helmets.

That year, Galax secured a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure grant and purchased 30 children bicycles and helmets in varying sizes to launch their project. Federal partners such as the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and Safe Routes to School also contributed. Additional donations of bicycles were made by Main Street Bike Shop and the local retail chain.

The City did not have a permanent facility to store the equipment, but by partnering with their Parks and Recreation Department they were able to purchase and place a 12' x 20' storage facility on the department's grounds next to a quarter-mile track for walking and biking - and only a half mile away from the New River Trail State Park. The Bike Library opened in March 2014. Flyers were distributed in Spanish and English to schools, the local health department, parks and recreation departments, and other locations around the community. 

The success of the Galax Bike Library Program has truly been a community effort. The local bike shop owner and park personnel volunteer to help attend to bicycle repairs. With the help of the City's attorney the liability and permission documents given to parents prior to student's renting out equipment were approved. In these documents, it is stated that children younger than 13 years old need a parent present to ride with them. Other community members have donated adult bikes, letting students and their parents check out equipment and spend afternoons riding on the scenic New River Trail and around Galax's quaint downtown. The bike library has also gone mobile through the purchase of a bike trailer, and now the local Safe Routes to School Coordinator and volunteers deliver on-site bike safety lessons in the community's neighborhoods. The program allows students and residents of the area to check out bikes on a first-come, first-serve basis to ride for free for a few hours.

Riders-on-New-River-Trail.jpg#asset:9730

Each year, use of the Bike Library grows. In the first month of operation, eight students signed out bikes and helmets. Now, more than 145 students and parents have checked out equipment from the library, not counting the number of students who have participated in bike rodeos, bike rides, and bike riding lessons in the schools and on the Parks and Recreation Department grounds. Each time a bike is checked out, staff inspects the bikes for any maintenance necessary and when they are returned the bikes in working condition and clean for the next renter. Any bikes that do not meet these criteria are pulled out from the library for repair.

The Galax Bike Library Program has reinvigorated a community where nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty. Prior to the library, many students and adults had never had the opportunity to ride a bike. This effort has allowed families to rediscover the joy and independence of pedaling around their City while reconnecting with their community.

In 2016, the National Center for Safe Routes to School announced the Galax Safe Routes to School Award, a national award for outstanding achievement for implementing the Safe Routes to School program.

"By fostering local support the Galax Safe Routes to School program has helped transform its town into one where walking and biking is a vibrant part of community culture. We're so happy to recognize their outstanding efforts and we hope Galax will inspire similar programs in other small own communities across the country."

- Nancy Pullen-Seufert, Director of the National Center for Safer Routes to School

This case study and other bike-related case studies can be found in our Shift Into Gear® guidebook.

This article was written by Amanda O'Rourke, Shift Into Gear: A Bicycling Advocacy Resource.

Photo Credits: 8 80 Cities

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