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Friday, February 27, 2015 - 7:46am

Program Gives Bikes To Commuters In Need

More professionals are riding bicycles to work to save time and money. Others have to commute by bike, because they can’t afford to drive or take the bus. A new program in Savannah is refurbishing bikes using donated parts, then giving them to people in need. GPB’s Emily Jones rode along with one of them.

Mohammad Wasiq works at one of the hotels on Savannah’s downtown riverfront. It’s just shy of a mile and a half from his apartment - an easy bike ride he says normally takes about eight to nine minutes.

Trying to take the bus was a different story. Talking at his house, while his daughter and his roommates’ kids played nearby, Wasiq says the buses are unpredictable, and that created some problems when he first started this job.

"First ten days, I was late sometimes, sometimes early because I couldn’t wait for the bus so I was just walking from here," he says. "Then after I got a bike, now it’s very easy. I know what time should I leave."

Wasiq got his bike from the Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s New Standard Cycles program. The group accepts donated bikes and parts, fixes them up, then works with other nonprofits to find people who need refurbished bikes. The first such partner is refugee placement organization Lutheran Services of Georgia, which helped Wasiq find his apartment and job when he got to Savannah. He was an interpreter with the US military in Afghanistan until he moved here.

Lauren Cruickshank of Lutheran Services says the bikes are especially important for refugees and special immigrants like Wasiq when they first arrive. "The fact that they can get a bicycle for free means that they’re not spending money on the bicycle," she says, "and it also means that maybe they don’t have to spend money on a bus ticket each time they’re going to their ESL [English as a Second Language] class or each time they’re going to the grocery store."

New Standard Cycles manager Jen Colestock says the program also helps connect bike commuters like Wasiq, who ride out of necessity, with those who have other options but choose to bike to work. Colestock says that gives bike advocates a clearer picture of cycling needs in neighborhoods throughout the city.

"We’re working on getting a more comprehensive idea of sort of a bike network here in Savannah," she says. "What are the safe streets? What are the streets where we might want to look and ask the city to expand a bike lane network."

A similar program in Athens also distributes bikes to commuters in need. A spokesperson with the League of American Bicyclists says recycling programs like these have been popping up all over the country in recent years.

To get the bikes out to people who need them, volunteers repair them in New Standard Cycles’ workshop. It looks like a highly organized bicycle scrapyard, with bins overflowing with pedals, seats, and other key parts. Many of the volunteers building that shop, and fixing the bikes, came from the Metropolitan Savannah Rotary.

"I sit behind a desk all day, I’m a lawyer," says club president Robert McCorkle. "And to get to go and kind of work with tools and take things apart and do a little deconstruction work, I guess, it was really great. I learned a lot."

McCorkle says the Rotary club got involved because of the impact the program could have in Savannah. "It’s trying to provide bicycles and safe transportation for people who need it to get to work," he says, "productive members of society who need a helping hand for transportation."

Since it launched quietly in the fall, the program has given out 12 adult bikes, as well as more than two dozen for kids at the holidays. Organizers say they’re ready to distribute more. And soon, a mobile repair trailer will be ready to roll out into Savannah neighborhoods - towed, of course, behind a bike.

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