Art, Books, and Bikes For All

by Kiran Herbert, Local Programs Writer and Content Manager

A collaboration between four Nashville-based organizations has made bike share memberships available at every library, complete with suggested routes, group rides, and art bikes.

(Photo credit: Matt Andrews; Artist credit: Rainbow Mosho)

 

Just imagine if bike share were as ubiquitous and accessible as our libraries. Not only would every community have expanded mobility options, but they’d be able to take advantage of them free of charge. Already, in libraries across the country, people can check out laptops, bread-making machines, and museum tickets — bikes are the natural next step. 

Heartland BCycle in Omaha, Nebraska used grant funding to launch a library checkout scheme for its bikes as early as 2019. Inspired by that program, Madison BCycle in Wisconsin developed its own Community Pass Program to make borrowing a bike share bike as easy as checking out a book. Then, in May of 2022, Nashville BCycle in Tennessee debuted its “Books and Bikes for All” program in partnership with the Nashville Public Library (NPL). 

Similar to the others, the Nashville program enables any library card holder to check out a bike share membership for a week at a time. Residents are given a key fob that allows them to use a bike from any one of the system’s 34 stations around town for unlimited two-hour trips. The May pilot made nine passes available at three branches but this July, thanks to a BBSP grant and continued support from the NPL, the program has grown to include 66 passes available across all 21 branches. 

“I figure working with a community partner like the library, which already provides incredible community resources and opportunities would be a great start to improving access, awareness, and use of our growing system — all while adding another public amenity into the library’s circulation,” says Elese Daniel, general manager of Nashville BCycle. “If affordability was a concern for people, they now have an opportunity to still engage with BCycle and to ride a bike without that barrier of entry.”

As part of the new grant and program expansion, the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville, the NPL, and the Music City Dope Pedalers, a BIPOC-led bike club, are partnering to grow the existing program and create “Art, Books, and Bikes For All.” The funding will help the program expand to the new branches, create bike routes, and host a community bike ride with three art bikes designed by local artists. 

“We were trying to figure out ways in which we could work together with BCycle when we saw the BBSP grant opportunity,” says Jill McMillan Palm, executive director at the Arts & Business Council. “We saw it as a perfect opportunity to expand the ‘Books and Bikes For All’ program, but also add an art element.”

The Arts & Business Council’s entire mission sits at a unique place between arts and culture in the community, infusing art into local business, providing paid opportunities for artists, and ensuring that the arts are a holistic part of the Nashville area. At the beginning of July, as part of the new program, the council posted a call for artists to design an art bike. Interested Nashville-area artists were invited to submit their ideas for a design to be featured on one of three art bikes in celebration of the program expansion. To be considered, interested artists had to submit 1-5 representative works from their existing portfolio, an artist statement, and a narrative proposal regarding their idea(s) by July 27. 

“Applications from those that are part of historically-marginalized communities — whether that’s race, sexual orientation, women in general — those applications will get preferred review because we want to make sure we have a diverse representation of artists with the three bikes,” says McMillan Palm. “We have certain equity criteria that we follow in our application and selection process and we try to remove as many barriers as possible for participation.”

The three artists will be selected by August 5 and will be paid $650 to license their designs, which are due by August 31. Printing costs for the four separate bike elements (the skirt guard, handlebar shroud, basket decals, and downtube) will be covered by the grant. The art bikes will be showcased during the community bike ride, within program and artist promotions, and displayed at library branches prior to joining BCycle’s fleet. In October, there will be an unveiling event and community bike ride with the Music City Dope Pedalers.

“We specifically chose the Music City Dope Pedalers as a partner to bring more visibility and accessibility to historically marginalized communities, particularly in north Nashville,” says McMillan Palm. “All of our partners share the same value of accessibility — this is an effort to show how reliable, safe, and easy bike share can be.”

The Music City Dope Pedalers organizes some of the most consistent, casual, and fun group rides in the Nashville area, maintaining a strict “no drop” policy in order to accommodate both beginner and more advanced riders. The group’s rides focus on Nashville’s bike routes, greenways, and urban areas, and as part of this grant, the group will curate safe, enjoyable bike routes. 

Not only will people have access to a bike, but they’ll know where to ride too,” says Daniel. “We wanted to make it more convenient for more people to consider biking and using BCycle.”

Like many U.S. cities, Nashville is car-centric and Daniel is hopeful that the collaborative project will help residents see bikes as a valuable part of the public transit infrastructure while helping to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. By making the bikes easily available, helping build interest and investment in the system through art, and facilitating camaraderie and knowledge-sharing through group rides, there’s no question that “Arts, Books, and Bikes For All” will draw in new riders.

“This project is a win for everyone,” says Daniel. “I think bike share is at its best when it prioritizes community.”


The Better Bike Share Partnership is funded by The JPB Foundation as a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Got a question or a story idea? Email kiran@peopleforbikes.org.