Electric bike borrowing program coming to Richmond
on November 18, 2022
Richmond residents may soon be able to rent electric bikes with ease, after the city received a $3 million grant from the California Strategic Growth Council last month to implement its E-bike Lending Library Program.
Heralded by local bicycle cooperative and nonprofit Rich City Rides, a co-applicant for the grant, the project intends to make cycling more accessible for many would-be riders inhibited by physical ability or other barriers that make riding traditional bikes difficult.
“We wanted to add a human-centered approach to bikeshare,” said Najari Smith, Rich City Rides’ founder and executive director
Smith hopes that by renting an e-bike for one week or longer, more people will become acclimated to them.
The e-bike Lending Library Program is expected to begin next year with 40 bikes that likely will be available at Unity Park, according to Jason Woody, Rich City Ride’s community development director. The organization soft launched the program with its own e-bikes and now hopes to do so in a more expansive way, with funding from the grant.
“I’m excited with the chance to work with the city,” Woody said. “I think we have the capacity to get the bikes to people, wherever they are in Richmond.”
The program is part of the larger five-year-long Richmond Rising Project, a collaborative effort between local nonprofits and the city to create green infrastructure and affordable transportation. The project was among three selected by the Strategic Growth Council for its Transformative Climate Communities Program, which funds projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health in disadvantaged communities.
“This project is going to allow our community to generate solar energy, as well as create affordable transportation options,” Smith said.
Frustrated by how few riders he saw in the city, Smith established Rich City Rides in 2012 to bring cycling to Richmond. What started off with weekly bike rides on the Greenway led to the creation of a community keystone.
Rich City Rides’ handful of programs such as its “Selfcare Sunday” rides, “Fix It Fridays,” and bicycle giveaways have helped bring Richmond’s historically underserved community together. In 2015, the organization campaigned for and helped design the layout for Unity Park, which turned sections of the Richmond Greenway into a communal space with a playground, basketball court, and seating area.
As the nonprofit grew and the demand for bicycles soared, Smith opened a bike shop in 2014 under the same name. Three years later, the shop became a licensed cooperative and continues to be a meeting place for Rich City Rides on Macdonald Avenue.
The organization and shop are run by seven employees including 20-year-old Justice Abdullah, who oversees Rich City Rides’ fellowship program for Black youth.
Abdullah interned with the group a year and a half after moving from New York state to Richmond. He credits his interest in cycling, a frequent activity he does now, to Rich City Rides.
“I have four bikes now,” Abdullah said, a situation attributable to months spent at the shop.
About Sunday’s ride:
When: 11 a.m. (rolling at noon)
Where: Meet at Richmond BART Plaza
Destination: San Rafael
Registration and information: richcityrides.org.
(Photo by Nadia Lathan)
The e-bike Lending Library Program and this Sunday’s San Rafael Bridge ride represent the nonprofit’s latest efforts to make cycling accessible for the city’s predominately Black and Latino population, a demographic that has historically been excluded from biking for socioeconomic, safety, and cultural reasons.
Maria Weatherborne, who is Black and an experienced long-distance cyclist, volunteers for Rich City Rides by leading community trips. She plans to attend the bridge ride — part of a weekly ride series that the nonprofit leads on Sundays — and anticipates hundreds of participants. If the lending program is marketed widely, Weatherborne believes it will attract even more cyclists for long-distance trips.
“It will definitely increase accessibility,” she said. “It might even bring out a different generation of cyclists.”
Eleven months after moving to Richmond, Weatherborne feels inspired by Rich City Rides, saying, “It makes Richmond a better place to be.”
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