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Using balance bikes to build relationships in Elgin

A group of advocates in Elgin is working to advance the city’s decade-old bike plan and boost bike access for children in low-income parts of the town.

Elgin Bike Hub is a non-profit organization working for better biking in the northwest suburban city that straddles both Cook and Kane counties. The group is pushing for the community’s nearly ten-year-old Bikeway Plan to be updated and revised as an active transportation plan that prioritizes equity. The updated plan would map out the community’s vision of a connected and equitable network of low-stress bikeways, trails, sidewalks and transit access.

Using a mini-grant from Active Trans’ Bike Walk Every Town suburban advocacy campaign, the Elgin Bike Hub purchased four balance bikes (bikes without pedals that help children learn balance) and hosted an 8-week Saturday bike program for children at Elgin’s historic Gifford Park, an area with a largely Latino, low-income population.

In addition to providing children with a fun, educational weekend activity, the program built community connections and raised awareness about the transportation needs of families of the Gifford Park neighborhood. Elgin Bike Hub sees a better understanding of the wants and needs of the Gifford Park community as essential for the development of a more informed, inclusive active transportation plan.

Active Trans’ Bike Walk Every Town campaign aims to lift up suburban leaders and provide them with the resources and strategic advice needed to be more effective change-makers in their community.

Elgin Bike Hub co-founder Parker Thompson shared his thoughts on the outcome of the balance bike program, their focus on equity and the relationship building that resulted: 

One goal of acquiring and providing access to the balance bikes was to reduce equipment-cost barriers to participation. We tried to approach this program planning with equity in mind because the Elgin and greater suburban bike activism has had middle-class recreational cyclists at its leading edge, and we need to evaluate active transportation infrastructure, needs and planning with a fuller understanding of the community and residents and an equitable distribution of resources for transportation.

The children and families that participated in the balance bike program loved it. For many of the families this was their first time to interact with Elgin Bike Hub and for most, their first chance to try a balance bike. We had several families return multiple weeks. We also participated in the transition of at least two little riders to pedal bikes without training wheels this summer.

We plan on continuing to use the balance bikes to provide learning-to-ride programs for the Elgin community and on-going relationship development. As a new community non-profit using bike riding as a tool for community development, the resource of these balance bikes has been a tremendous asset for Elgin Bike Hub to get started and to provide a meaningful program.

If you’re interested in getting involved in suburban walking and biking advocacy and encouraging others to ride or walk more in your community, visit the Bike Walk Every Town webpage for more information or email maggie@activetrans.org.

 

Photo credit: Parker Thompson, Elgin Bike Hub