posted 03/13/12 07:14 PM | updated 03/15/12 09:07 AM
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Bike Works program looking to come to Lake City, needs help

Bike Works began in this house that had been boarded up and has since evolved into one of Seattle's unique nonprofits empowering youth, engaging adult volunteers and running a social enterprise full-service bike shop that helps fund its programming. Bike Works has been taking its programming to off-site locations and may be coming to to Lake City.

On February 11th Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was talking at a Town Hall-style meeting in South Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood. By design, the meeting was focused on issues in the Columbia City neighborhood and the south end. But during that meeting the discussion momentarily strayed from a south end-centric discussion.

To that South Seattle crowd gathered there, Mayor McGinn started to talk about issues and problems in Lake City and the north end. (20:16) in video

The Mayor mentioned that Seattle Police are seeing an increase in gang activity in Lake City. He talked about how the maps that show where youth violence is high, overlay perfectly with the same areas that show low income and school achievement gaps.

The Mayor mentioned Lake City's troubled schools and concentration of low-income families. He mentioned the increase in youth crime.

Also at that meeting was Deb Salls. She is a woman that six months ago took over as executive director of one of Seattle's most successful programs for low-income youth empowerment.

During his talk the Mayor said "public safety is not just about police officers and arrests, it really is about the holistic approach."

That got wheels spinning in Salls' head. She wondered what her program could do in the far Northeast corner of Seattle. "Could Bike Works make a difference?" she wondered.

A successful program that 'creates ripples'


'Bicycle leaders' work on a bike after school.

On a recent afternoon in Columbia City about 15 school-aged youngsters were turning wrenches and spinning wheels. They were diverse, enthusiastic and ranged from elementary aged kids to high-schoolers.

The telltale click, click, click of ball bearings in spinning bicycle wheels and discussions about seat posts and bar ends contributed to the buzz in the room. The smell of rubber tires, tubes and bicycle lubricants filled the air as the students worked and learned. Everyone in the room had grease under their fingernails and a smile on their face.

Other students worked in an office writing speeches for an upcoming fundraiser. They looked intense as they perfectly crafted their words about an organization that has made a difference in their lives. 

Welcome to Bike Works, a unique and innovative non-profit in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood.

"We are a program that creates ripples," said Davey Oil, Bike Works adult programs and volunteer coordinator.

The program started in 1996 as a bike share program in Columbia City. The organization, then known as the Free Ride Zone, teamed up with John Muir Elementary School to offer bikes to low-income students.

The popularity of the program in the low-income neighborhood surged. Soon they moved into a neighborhood house and set up shop. The house had attatched retail space that used to be a shoe shop in the '40s but had fallen into disrepair and was boarded up. They went from one staff member to more than 15 that now run the bike shop and programs.

Since those beginnings, the program has helped thousands of youth and adults learn to maintain a bicycle and in most cases, they have walked out the door with their own bike, helmet, and an understanding of the mechanics of the machines after completing one of the various programs offered.

Bike Works mission statement is to build sustainable communities by educating youth and promoting bicycling. They also work with adults. They primarily operate in under-served neighborhoods that lack easily accessible community programs and safe public spaces.

Their time-intensive after-school mentoring programs reach out to youth who are not attracted to traditional enrichment activities. Participants build confidence, critical thinking skills, self esteem, and life skills. They also learn what it means to give back to their community as they log community service hours toward earning their own bicycle.

Along the way they discover they have valuable skills to offer others in need. But probably most importantly, participants "realize their own self-worth in a community that will support, encourage, and strengthen them."

After the February Town Hall with Mayor Mike McGinn, interest in bringing the hugely-popular and successful program across town to Lake City was sparked.

Why Lake City?

Lake City has long been known as car city. The main drag is lined with car lots selling everything from Mini Coopers to giant box vans. In fact one of the only bike shops that pop up in a Google search of "bike shops" or "bicycles" in our corner of town is for Cooper Bikes, a bicycle designed by a division of the Mini Cooper car company and sold in their car showroom.

But the irony is that in Lake City most homes have a bike or two in the garage. A look at the exteriors of some of the condo and apartment complexes in the Lake City neighborhood show lots of bikes stored on the balconies. The mostly residential 25th Avenue NE sees dozens of bike commuters headed south in the mornings.

And if you can find the route, the Burke Gilman Trail (reopening today, March 13) is an easy pedal from our commercial and civic core.

Our neighborhood also has its share of social and economic issues.

Groups of teens regularly wander neighborhood streets, seemingly with nowhere to go. Our community center is minimal. There are few basketball courts and no skatepark. Graffiti seems to be everywhere; recreation nowhere.

A serial burglar that unnerved much of North Seattle in recent weeks may turn out to be a teenager from our part of town. A suspect was arrested just days ago.

We are a lower-income neighborhood with a neighborhood elementary school where 70% of the students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.

No one can argue that the need isn't there.

Bike Works in Lake City

"The easiest way for us to start up there is with a partnership," Bike Works Executive Director Deb Salls said during a recent tour as she explained the group's interest in coming north.

She said the program is working with off-site programs in areas such as White Center and South Lake Union and would hope to partner with a school to initially bring the program to Lake City.

They would also need a place in Lake City to store a bunch bikes, stands and tools. "We would need a storage area to store bikes and tools for the duration of the partnership," she said.

The group could offer a suite of programs that are flexible, she said. But there are two programs they would most likely offer now in Lake City.

The first is the "UGottaGetABike" program which is designed for low-income youth who do not have a bike. This program teaches the youth some basic bike repair skills, road safety skills and each youth leaves the program with a bike and a helmet.

The second program is the "ABC: Adult Basic Class." This class teaches adults basic mechanic skills over six weeks of instruction and hands on training.

Once a location for the classes is figured out, Bike Works staff hopes to pay a visit to Lake City.  Davey Oil, Bike Works adult programs and volunteer coordinator, used to live in our neighborhood and knows Lake City and our community's needs well.

"This is beautiful and I'm really excited," he said.

Note: If you know of youth that would benefit from this program, if you like turning wrenches or have skills that can help Bike Works come to Lake City, contact us at
Tags: bike, works
Hooray for Bikeworks
Bikeworks would be great here in Lake City!
Comment by Venus
4 days ago
( 0 votes )
great idea!
Bike Works is great. I'd love to see them in Lake City.
Comment by Richard
4 days ago
( 0 votes )
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