How to Get Bikes to People During COVID-19

As New York City shut down to flatten the coronavirus curve, and enclosed subways and buses threatened virus transmission, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned to cycling. As the epidemic continues, bicycles are helping frontline workers to get to their jobs, others to run crucial errands and help vulnerable neighbors, and food delivery workers to serve the quarantined. Across New York, and in many other cities, bicycle repair shops have been added to the list of essential businesses.

But that does not mean everyone who needs a bike has one. In New York City, Transportation Alternatives is piloting a solution. We call it #BikeMatch — and you can start one where you live with just one or two volunteers and an internet connection.

How #BikeMatch Began

Transportation Alternatives is a New York City nonprofit organization that advocates for cyclists’ right to the street, and as a result, our staff tends towards bicycling as transportation. Which is how, last week, as more and more New Yorkers took to cycling as a critical means of travel, our art director, Jacob Oberman, realized he had a bike gathering dust in his hallway.

Jacob reached out to his social network, and advertised the bike as up for grabs. By the end of the day, he was waving goodbye to his old bike (through a closed window, of course) and another New Yorker had access to much-needed transportation. Jacob’s story inspired the team at TA to set up a #BikeMatch, because we know bikes are essential for so many people who need to get around during this crisis.

What is #BikeMatch

Transportation Alternatives’ #BikeMatch is a mutual aid effort to connect people with spare bicycles to people who need them. We are the go-between, collecting information on what resources people have and what people need.

We built a simple intake form, which anyone is welcome to copy (though Transportation Alternatives can only manage bike matching in New York City) and shared it with our social networks. The form asks people about their height and bike size, to describe the bike they have or what they need a bike for, and what neighborhood they live in. Based on geography and size, we hunt down a match, and connect the two people via an email. The matched pair then coordinate with each other to meet and exchange the bike.

The response was swift and eager. Less than 24 hours after #BikeMatch launched, a hundred people had signed up. By the end of the first day, we were able to make 10 matches. Now, there are tens of partner #BikeMatch programs, from Tel Aviv to Washington, D.C. San Franciscan organizers have even developed and now offer a platform to facilitate matching and contact.

What You Need to Start Your Own #BikeMatch

To participate in Transportation Alternatives’ #BikeMatch, we ask people to sign a waiver. Bottom line: health precautions are a must. Here’s what we’ve put in place:

  • We ask anyone who has a fever or cough to refrain from participating.
  • For people who are giving away a spare bike, we ask for the bike to be in working order and for all the surfaces to be sanitized before hand-off, especially handlebars, shifters and seats.
  • When we connect a person who has a bike to give with someone who needs a bike, we request that the handoff occur as an outdoor, no contact exchange in a public place, and that all social distancing guidelines be observed.

Outside of those rules, anyone can set up a #BikeMatch. You can contact your city’s local bike advocacy group to arrange a formal effort, put the call out on Twitter, or simply post on NextDoor or craigslist: Free Bike for Essential Workers. We are sure you will find some takers.

The most important thing is recognizing that, in this trying moment, our generosity is more important than ever, and strangely, so are bicycles. We hope that you can find a way to give.

Compiled resources:

If you start your own #BikeMatch(YourCityHere), or if you have any questions, send us an email at info@transalt.org.

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Transportation Alternatives

Transportation Alternatives

Transportation Alternatives is your advocate for walking, bicycling, and public transit in New York City. We stand up for #VisionZero & #BikeNYC.