Tag Archives: seattle

AWESOME PROJECT: Help send passionate NYC cyclists to Seattle, for Youth Bike Summit 2015, to connect with their larger community!

Joe Matunis is a lifelong cyclist; he grew up in rural Pennsylvania, where he had the wide-open space to discover the joys of biking very early in life. So after 20 years as a science teacher at Williamsburg’s El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, it made perfect sense that he launch a bike club for his students. Most El Puente scholars commute from East New York – that’s over an hour on public transit, even on a good day – and don’t have access to a culture of fitness. The girls especially, Matunis says, because they don’t tend to be as interested in basketball as the guys are, are coming into the high school at healthy weights and leaving overweight. He wanted to get his students moving, and he wanted them to experience the sense of freedom, mastery, autonomy, renewal, confidence, and clarity of mind that he’d always known a good ride could bring.

Cut to two years later, and already the El Puente bike squad is unrecognizable. Kids who’d never stepped onto a bike, who’d been leery of all the gear changing and signal-giving and hectic traffic, who’d been maxed out after just a couple of miles in the saddle, are identifying as cyclists. They’re talking about going to colleges where they can bike. They’re joining in for the one weekday morning ride that Matunis guides (before classes start, as the DOT won’t let students ride with teachers during school hours) and the long weekend ride. They’re logging hours upon hours taking apart, tinkering with, and learning to fix up old frames donated to Recycle a Bicycle, and eventually earning their own first bikes to keep. They’re racing the 40-mile Tour de Bronx. And they’re asking for more.

IMG_9641A  critical turning point for his students in that journey, says Matunis, was attending, last year, the annual Youth Bike Summit. The 2014 summit happened to take place at home, here in New York, so they took the leap even though they were just getting started. “A lot of them had just started riding,” says Matunis. “They were really novices. And a lot of the other kids at the summit really clearly identified as bikers. They wore biking gear and were talking about all the rides they’d done.”

That exposure to youth bike culture, says Matunis, was hugely important for his students, and absolutely inspired them to up their game. They started taking longer rides, reaching higher. They started to feel a part of a larger movement – one that’s unquestionably heating up in NYC right now. One rebel El Puente cyclist, who’d always refused to join in for the long group rides because he didn’t want to wear a “dorky” helmet, even began to change his tune there. Here were hordes of kids at the summit, from all over the country, comparing this helmet to that one as if there were no cooler headgear on the planet.

This year, the Youth Bike Summit is taking place in Seattle, which is a long way away for a school with not a lot of money to burn. But Matunis and the El Puente squad won’t be deterred. They’re forging ahead, and they need your help. Here’s their ioby campaign, which includes an awesome short video with interviews from core quad members.

Here’s why they really, really need to get to Seattle this year: they have an important message to share with the youth cycling community. In fact, they’re already on the docket for an El Puente presentation on how biking reduces stress. It all started when Matunis began asking his students to do a little journaling after their school-morning rides, and noticed an incredible trend. These kids were completely, intuitively aware of all the science on biking and on exercise. That is to say, they wrote – unprompted – about how the rides were reducing their stress levels. They wrote about how they looked forward to the rides, how biking was helping to relieve their stress with family, with schoolwork. And these students are no strangers to stress. “There’s a lot of single parents who are struggling with bills,” says Matunis. “All of them live in East New York, which is a long commute. Trains are unreliable.”

Matunis brought his observation to the students, who decided to formally investigate the relationship between stress-relief and biking. A core group of four girls and one guy went ahead and polled the entire high school, compiling and analyzing their research. Tellingly, this is all extra-curricular work. They’re doing it not for credit, but for passion. They’ll present the fruits of their labor in Seattle on the weekend of Feb 13-15.


It’s a real thrill, says Matunis, to see his students going back to the summit this year as pros now, not just as cyclists, but also as knowledgeable bike policy and fitness advocates. “They’re pretty knowledgeable now about the environmental benefits, the physical and mental health benefits. They know about the issues with the education system and the need to advocate to get bicycling in schools. So I think they’re really excited to share what they know.”

Also on the docket for this year’s Summit – they’ll be presenting a documentary titled Bicycle Stories: what my bicycle means to me, my family, my community, my planet – is another group of NYC students racing against time to raise funds for their trip to Seattle. The International High School at Union Square is a fascinating place. With students coming from literally all over the world, many from regions of conflict, you’ll hear more than 30 languages spoken in the corridors of the ambitious school. That makes biking, for those students involved (roughly ¼ of the 300-something student body are involved in the cycling program in some capacity, whether that be taking the actual rides, or working on the bikes, or getting into cycling advocacy) something of a universal language, and certainly a bit of relief from the enormous stress of recent immigration.

“This is an immersion program, so it’s really exhausting for students to be in school that’s conducted in a foreign language all day,” says Meredith Klein, the math teacher who founded and runs the bike club. “I think a lot of them feel like when they can just go do something physical outside with their friends, where they’re not being asked to be constantly producing language, I think that’s a really cool way for them to relate to each other, and for us to relate to them.”

Klein herself grew up in New Jersey, but didn’t really discover biking until she moved to the city to teach. She remembers one particularly transformative ride, which saw her soaring through Chinatown at night. She sounds awe-struck when she describes how different the city suddenly looked to her, from her new vantage point. It wasn’t long before she was a fully-fledged convert, commuting to work by bike, along with many of her fellow teachers.

“The kids see us with our bikes in the halls,” she says. “One day, a student asked me if I could teach him how to ride a bike. Any time a kid asks for something like that, I try to find it. So I was just emailing all over the place, and ended up in touch with Bike New York. That’s how it started.”

For Klein’s students, a bike is often not just a way to get from A to B, but a way of going back in time – to childhood, and to the bikes they’ve had to leave behind in their home countries. One student, originally from Senegal, arrived as a ninth grader with almost no English, but immediately approached his teachers to say: “bike, I need a bike.” He’d had to leave his at home, and desperately missed that feeling of being able to map his own course. He’s now a 10th grader, and in the process of earning a bike through Recycle A Bicycle’s earn-a-bike program, and (see the photo below of him tuning it up!) could not possibly be more devoted to his new friend.

It’s precisely because of that kind of devotion and kinship that Klein’s students decided to make a documentary about their relationships to their bicycles, and to share their stories with the national youth bike community. They’re making the film on a budget of exactly zero, but desperately need to raise the rest of the money that they need to see them through the weekend in Seattle. Airfare is bought and covered, but they need $1,500 more to cover rooms at Hosteling International (which has given the group a generous discount) and meals. Imagine sending two teachers and four students to Seattle for an entire weekend – on only $3,000 total! That’s what we call some serious budgeting, so you can feel super confident that your donation will go a LONG, long way. Like, 40-mile, Tour de Bronx long. Click here to donate, and to read more about the documentary.

Matunis and Klein come from such different schools, but ask them about why they launched their respective bike clubs, and you’ll hear the exact same unbridled enthusiasm in their voices. They are beyond proud of their young cyclists, beyond thrilled to have been able to bring the much-needed joys of biking – and the biking community – to their schools.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Klein. “I love teaching math, but I just love doing this. We’re building this together. It’s coming out of a need that the students have. I feel really lucky to be in a place where the school is supportive of it, and the kids are excited about it, and want it, and that we have these great community partners. That Recycle a Bicycle and Bike New York even exist is changing lives.”

The summit this year falls on Valentines Day Weekend – Feb 13-15. What could be more fitting, given how these young NYC cyclists have fallen for the freedom of a simple bike ride? Something tells us that this’ll be a lifelong love affair for them, so please consider helping Matunis and Klein reach their goals just in the nick of time. This week’s the final crunch. $150 covers hostel fees for one of Klein’s students at Hosteling International, and $200 covers meals for one of her students. But every little bit counts. It’s in the name of true love!


Awesome Project: Free community book swaps at Seattle transit hubs

Kristina’s throwing in her copy of Cloud Atlas. Alex is going to donate his copy of Tipping Point. Another teammate is adding (meditatively?) Siddhartha to the stack. But these are just the first few in what they hope will become a very, very large pool of titles, because what Kristina Krause and her justifiably fired-up team leading this ioby campaign really want is all the books. That’s right. They’ve got big ideas about how to make Seattle’s public transportation system more inspiring, and they need all the books you’ve got lying around at home. You won’t get your own books back, but you will have the pleasure of knowing you’ve turned someone else’s mind-numbing commute into a journey of literary discovery. And they just might do the same for you.


Here’s how it’ll work. On November 21st, Kristina and her team – a group of public transit and library enthusiasts who regularly brainstorm over Facebook – will, at ten public transit hubs in Seattle, set up drop boxes for books: a free, communal library of sorts. While you wait to catch your bus to work, see if anything in the box catches your eye. If you do spy a tempting title, just enter your name into the logbook, and it’s yours for as long as you want it. Take the book home if you like, and drop it back in circulation anytime, at any of the drop points, along with whatever else you might want to contribute from your own personal library.

It’s an idea that’s already taken flight at Cape Town’s airport: the FlyBrary, which has been up and running, steadily gaining popularity, and completely sustaining itself, for 4 months now. Could book sharing be the next frontier in inspirational transit?

To be clear, Seattle’s not short on readers or on books; it’s been ranked the second most literate city in America for four years running, and Alex Epstein, one of Krause’s ioby teammates, says that many of his fellow public transit commuters already read to pass the time. But there’s something just that extra bit comforting, that extra bit exciting, about selecting your reading material from a collective pool – being a part of the community in that way. “It’s also being a part of the Seattle cultural brand,” says Epstein, who wants to see Seattle become the first city with a public transit-driven free community library.

“We need to save our transit system,” says Epstein. “A lot of people use it, but not enough. You have to wait for half an hour for your bus, and then it’s a bumpy ride. We need to make it more entertaining.” It doesn’t seem so hard to imagine that if ridership and general enthusiasm went up, the city might feel more confident about investing in and reviving the infrastructure itself.


The team is working with local artists and welders to create free-standing book boxes, which will look similar to the ubiquitous newspaper machine, only beautiful! And no two will be alike. Someone’s old file cabinet, for example, has been earmarked for repurposing as one of the initial ten book boxes.

Better yet, the book boxes will serve as community bulletin boards, too, where Seattle’s public library might advertise, say, a lecture with Cornell West, or a “lunchtime story” event. Epstein says the team wants to make more accessible the sorts of “thought leaders that people might not even know about, if they don’t visit the library.” To ensure that they reach Seattle residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the team has mapped out their initial 10 sites with diversity and traffic density in mind. They want to bring library services to new audiences. Free books, free advertising for libraries, and a – dare we say it – fun commute? What could be more Seattle than that, and what could be better?

And speaking of new audiences, the team wants kids on board, too. “We just want all the books,” says Epstein. “We’ve been thinking about how exciting it would be to have kids books. That’s so hard as a parent – taking kids on trains. That would be a beautiful gift to parents.”


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The ioby Trick Out My Trip opportunity is funded by Transit Center.


ioby’s Trick Out My Trip Campaign

Last year, something big happened for public transit in America. In 2013, a whopping 10.7 billion rides were taken on US transit. An impressive record high, the number reveals that the trend we’ve all seen in action – Americans, especially millennials, setting their sights on walkable, bikeable, train- and bus-able towns and cities – is a very real one, and could completely change the face of American transportation.

The news couldn’t be better. With climate change breathing down our necks, and study after study reporting that access to good public transit makes people both happier and healthier, America needs to get with the program. Sure, New Yorkers might have a million great – if loud, slow, crowded and smelly – transit options, but they enjoy nearly 50% of all US public transit rides, while much of the rest of the country gets the short straw. We all need the option to ditch our cars, and to become a country that walks, bikes, hops on the train.

“Overall for the transit industry,” says Transit Center research and development director Shin-Pei Tsay, “for all the transit agencies, all the operators, all the people who provide services and infrastructure and construction, I think overall they’re just really excited, because on the wholesale level, there’s finally public demand for transit services.”

But despite all the buzz about the increasing demand for public transit, says Tsay, “little has changed in the industry.” That’s because most of the big changes we need to see are bound to come very, very slowly. Projects like laying down new track, redesigning streets and intersections, and adding trains and busses to existing lines will be hugely expensive, and they’ll be forever in the making. Plus, some will also be disruptive for locals. Case in point: New York’s always-and-forever pending 2nd Ave subway line, with all the incredible noise and mess it’s brought to NYC’s east side.

Here’s the game-changer, though. We don’t have to wait. There are so many other ways – vastly cheaper, quicker, easier, and more creative ways – for us all to start making American public transit as safe and comfortable as it should be. Turning a single decrepit Memphis bus shelter into a celebration of Soulsville musical heritage, for example, can help to enliven an entire neighborhood. Introducing a public art installation at a neglected intersection can help people envision the space as full of possibility. Simply putting up a colorful, hand-painted sign at a metro stop, to let riders know it’s only a fifteen-minute walk to the park, can reinvigorate daily routines. These are projects that transit authorities would see as being outside of their wheelhouse, and would never tackle. And they’re exactly the types of projects we the riders, we the walkers and cyclists, can get started on right now.

This fall, ioby has sponsored ten such projects as part of its Trick Out My Trip transit campaign. The ten ioby team Leaders are community organizers, cycling advocates, transit authority staffers and volunteers, software programmers, artists and involved citizens, and they come from all over the country – Los Angeles, Seattle, Memphis, Louisville, Atlanta, Denver, Lithonia, and Brooklyn. Each of them has an innovative idea about how to quickly improve transit in his or her city, and – with funds raised through ioby, then matched by Transit Center – they’ll each complete a test run between now and Thanksgiving.

As researchers pay closer and closer attention to the psychology of public transit, studies have shown that the sorts of projects these ten ioby Leaders will be completing can have a very concrete impact on riders’ satisfaction. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have found, for example, that basic amenities at bus stops – shelters, benches, clear and accurate schedules – make people’s wait times feel significantly shorter. And that may be far more important than we’ve previously assumed. As Transit Center’s 2014 Who’s On Board study reported, “Transit is personal. Unlike the sewer systems, the power grid, and telecommunications infrastructure, transit can evoke pride, frustration, and even fear. It can shape our most personal decisions about where we live and work.”

“It’s super exciting,” says Tsay of partnering with ioby on Trick Out My Trip. “I love seeing ideas from people who are everyday transit riders. Change can’t happen without them. Seeing that there’s interest in the communities means that there’s a growing contingency who might really think about transit in a different way and put pressure on their transit agencies and on their elected officially to think about transit differently, and I think all of that really makes a big difference in the long run.”

 Stay Tuned! This blog is the first in a series this week!