Richmond residents will soon be able to easily rent electric bikes after the city received a $3 million grant from the California Strategic Growth Council last month to implement its E-Bike Lending Library Program.
The project, announced by the local bicycle cooperative and non-profit organization Rich City Rides, a co-applicant for the grant, intends to make cycling more accessible to many potential riders who are limited by physical abilities or other obstacles to conventional riding complicate bicycles are inhibited.
“We wanted to add a people-centric approach to bike sharing,” said Najari Smith, founder and CEO of Rich City Rides
Smith hopes more people will get used to renting an e-bike for a week or more.
According to Rich City Ride Community Development Director Jason Woody, the E-Bike Lending Library Program is slated to begin next year with 40 bikes likely to be available at Unity Park. The organization launched the program with its own e-bikes and now hopes to do so more broadly with funding from the grant.
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work with the city,” said Woody. “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 Richmond Rising Project, a collaboration between local nonprofits and the city to create green infrastructure and affordable transportation. The project was 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 will enable our community to generate solar energy and provide affordable transportation,” Smith said.
Frustrated with how few riders he saw around town, Smith founded Rich City Rides in 2012 to bring cycling to Richmond. What started with weekly bike rides on the greenway led to the creation of a community keystone.
Rich City Rides’ handful of programs like Selfcare Sunday rides, Fix It Fridays and bike giveaways have helped bring Richmond’s historically underserved community together. In 2015, the organization promoted Unity Park and helped design the layout that transformed portions of the Richmond Greenway into a community area with a playground, basketball court, and seating area.
As the nonprofit grew and demand for bikes increased, Smith opened a bike shop under the same name in 2014. Three years later, the store became a licensed co-op and continues to be a meeting place for Rich City Rides on Macdonald Avenue.
The organization and business are run by seven employees, including 20-year-old Judge Abdullah, who oversees Rich City Rides’ scholarship program for black youth.
Abdullah practiced with the group for a year and a half after moving to Richmond from upstate New York. He credits his interest in bicycling, a frequent activity he now engages in, to Rich City Rides.
“I have four bikes now,” Abdullah said, a situation that stems from months in the business.
Around Ride on Sunday:
When: 11 a.m. (rolling midday)
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 to the city’s predominantly Black and Hispanic population, a demographic historically characterized by socioeconomic , security and cultural reasons was excluded from cycling.
Maria Weatherborne, black and an experienced long-distance cyclist, volunteers for Rich City Rides by leading community trips. She plans to take part in the bridge ride — part of a weekly ride series the nonprofit runs on Sundays — and expects hundreds to attend. If the rental program is widely marketed, Weatherborne believes it will attract even more cyclists for long-distance rides.
“This will definitely improve accessibility,” she said. “It might even produce a different generation of cyclists.”
Eleven months after moving to Richmond, Weatherborne is inspired by Rich City Rides and says, “It makes Richmond a better place.”