Bike Newport received some national recognition this week when the League of American Bicyclists named them their Advocacy Organization of the Year for 2020.

The announcement took place on Monday, March 1st at the virtual gathering of the National Bike Summit which takes place annually in Washington D.C.

 On-screen virtual award presented by Bill Nesper, League of American Bicyclists. Photo provided by Bike Newport.

According to the Bike League, “each year this honor is awarded to a bicycling and/or walking advocacy organization whose leaders have worked tirelessly to grow and strengthen their organization and fulfill their mission.” The award seeks to recognize “organizations that are inclusive, welcoming and committed to growing bicycling.”

For 2020, the League sought an organization that responded to the surging interest and promise of bicycles as a pandemic solution – for physical and mental health, for COVID-safe and dependable transportation, and for vital safely-distanced socializing.

Award Graphic. Provided by Bike Newport

In choosing Bike Newport, the League first recognized the organization for its history in advocacy, education and community building, and then specifically for its work in 2020 – adapting program to ensure continued access for anyone who needed their services; ensuring access to bicycles for physical and mental health, for COVID-safe and dependable transportation, and for vital safely-distanced socializing.

The surge in bike demand triggered a dearth in both new and used bike inventory – there quickly were no bikes to be had. Bike Newport staff and volunteers stepped up efforts to collect and restore donated used bicycles, and ultimately distributed 370 refurbished bicycles in the community. Additionally, the organization shifted in-person education and support to online videos, visits, and training, ensuring that support was available in English and Spanish. Bike Newport also ran its first-ever Summer Bike Camp, giving local youth the fun activity and socializing they were craving mid-pandemic – while piquing their bike curiosity and bike love. They adapted school programs for middle school students and continued both online and in-person when possible. Federal, state, and local support combined to make it possible to set up mobile workstations and run programs outside in a heated tent well into the cold weather. And when the tent came down, the children’s holiday bike giveaway continued – in the snow – with heaters blowing and hot cocoa flowing. With all the shifting of methods, there was a little lull in Newport when it came to bikes – and significant gain.

Bike Newport educator Larisa McGovern at winter holiday bike giveaway. Photo provided by Bike Newport

Newport resident Maria Colon was one of many to express her joy on receiving free bicycles from Bike Newport: “I have not ridden a bike in YEARS! I’m so grateful, especially in this time to extend this gift to families. My 12-year-old and I are so excited to ride bikes together for the first time, it’s awesome!”

While announcing the award, the Bike League’s Executive Director, Bill Nesper, shared: “One of the few bright spots of this year was seeing people use bicycling as a way to escape and to get where they needed to go and get into a better headspace and improve their wellness. So we thank Bike Newport for what they’re doing!”

On receiving the award, Bike Newport Executive Director, Bari Freeman, responded to the League’s question, What change do you hope bikes will bring in 2021? “The huge demand for, and use of, bicycles during the pandemic showed that bicycles are a very popular solution – for many people and for many reasons. Our hope – and our work – is to spotlight the surge in biking in 2020 – to amplify that people want to ride bikes, and to accelerate the changes that will make that possible. We need to welcome and support biking for everyone.”

The National Bike Summit was a four-day conference of bicycle advocates from around the country, which culminated in a day of visits to senators and representatives in Congress. On March 3rd, the Rhode Island cohort, with representatives from Bike Newport, RI Bicycle Coalition, and the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, met with all four of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation and their staff to share upcoming bills in support of safer, extended, and connected bicycle infrastructure statewide.

Congressman David Cicilline and Senator Jack Reed connect with Bike Newport via Zoom

Advocates from around the country likewise met virtually with their congressional representatives to share local updates and to focus on three federal bill proposals:

–        The Transportation Alternatives Program: to increase local control over federal funding for local transportation priorities such as bikeways and sidewalks, along with technical assistance in the application process.

–        The Complete Streets Act: to offer assistance, funding and guidance to local governments to implement Complete Streets plans nationwide.

–        The Safe Streets Act: which would require states to identify dangerous corridors and solutions to fix them.

To follow Bike Newport’s efforts, visit www.bikenewportri.org.

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Ryan M. Belmore

Ryan M. Belmore is the Owner & Publisher of What's Up Newp. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. Send questions, tips, and story ideas to Ryan@whatsupnewp.com.