Libraries, bikes and programs

Last week I went on an urban geography bike tour, sponsored by the Oakland Museum and led by Mana and Sadie from the Oakland Library. I’d met Mana and Sadie at various other bike events, where they usually bring the mobile bike library, and it got me thinking about how much the library is supporting Oakland’s bike programming.

Oakland Museum/Library train history ride

I have an idea, which may turn into a crusade, that cities should spend at least 10% of their investment in cycling on bike programs rather than infrastructure. In Oakland’s 2007 bike plan there was no funding at all for programs, and even in the 2019 update, which supposedly focuses on program development, only about 5% of the proposed spending is on program, and that’s counting generously (~$40-100M for infrastructure, ~$2-5M for programs). I would assert that the marginal last 5% of infrastructure funding—the difference between $100M and $95M—would have much more impact if spent on program instead. The difference between $5M and $10M in program funding could be transformative.

In the Let’s Bike Oakland plan, almost half of the funding recommended for programming is connected to the Oakland Library. The library has a number of existing programs, including the aforementioned Bike Library and the Women Bike Book Club. They also employ RB and house the Scraper Bike Shed. The bike plan proposes to add two bike mechanic positions for the library, and the Scrapers have been working with them on creating a community bike share system. I’m curious about how this alignment of the library and cycling programs in Oakland has arisen.

Oakland Museum/Library train history ride

Surely part of what’s going on is personality-driven. In chatting with Sadie and Mana, both downplayed their individual contributions to the effort (a very librarian thing to do), but it’s clear that their personal interest in promoting cycling is part of what’s driving the Library’s participation. Mana said that she views it as an extension of the library’s role in providing resources, and that got me thinking about meeting up with RB for rides at the 81st Avenue library where he works. It’s a nice space, and on weekends it’s pretty full of young people, mostly using the computers to play video games. Fortnite isn’t exactly the purpose of the Library, but providing space for the community is, and there’s a way that a group bike ride is an extension of that community space.

Oakland Museum/Library train history ride

This particular ride was educational, as we learned about railroad history in Oakland, and got lucky with lovely weather to visit Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, where two of the Oakland moles (railroad piers) once jutted out into the bay to connect with ferries to San Francisco. As a cycling urban geographer, I love that kind of stuff, and I love that people in the Library also see the bicycle as a tool for contemplating the city.

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