In the few years I have been writing the editorial column for this supplement, I, for the most part, have never referred in any direct way to my personal life—the life I lead outside the concerns of the Traffic & Transit audience.
But I recently came across an article—published at the website Bicycling.com—that in an odd circumstance brought together, in my mind at least, the personal and professional.
The article in question concerned the Lorain Public Library in Lorain, Ohio, and its collaboration with local county health and parks departments in the launch of the Go Lorain Bike Program. The program went live this past May, and, in essence, revolves around the community’s ability to rent bicycles as an alternate means of mobility.
What’s a library got to do with a mobility service? Quite a lot, it turns out. Unlike in most other communities that offer bike rental or bikeshare services, the program in Lorain is free—and people can check out a bike using their library card. Helmets and locks are included, and are likewise free of charge.
At first blush, I thought it an odd choice for such a program, but quickly reconsidered. After all, libraries are forums of public service—crucial ones in my opinion. They provide much more to their respective communities than simply a means of checking out a book or DVD; they often function as cultural centers, notably in smaller communities that otherwise lack such places; educational institutions, offering courses that run the gamut of special interest, adult/returning education, and social programming for children; resource labs for older citizens who otherwise lack access to technology; and safe zones for the disadvantaged and handicapped. Why not also serve as a resource to aid mobility?
According to the Bicycling.com article, Lorain is somewhat lacking in bike lanes, and it is for this reason—as well as the aim of furthering a safe and supportive community—that town leaders have eagerly supported this library-based program as a means of boosting visibility to the biking population and engaging Lorain’s younger population in an aspect of public service, specifically maintenance of the bike fleet. A group that employs young adults, ages 16-24, has been tapped for maintenance duty, and will receive the added benefit of being trained on the proper use of hand and power tools.
Evidently Lorain Public Library is not the only one with such a program. Libraries in Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Massachusetts have also engaged in similar programs. This growth in popularity, while modest, is nonetheless indicative of both the crucial role of libraries in our communities and the demand for mobility solutions that don’t revolve around the single-car driver.
So why does something like this connect with me on a personal level? Simply, my wife is a librarian. She is in charge of the adult reference division of a suburban library near our home. As you may imagine, I am privy to myriad tales of library life, some good, some not so much, all of them uniformly interesting and entertaining. I am uniquely aware of the role libraries serve in our communities and feel I appreciate that service better than most.
As such, I am buoyed to see these esteemed institutions playing a yet-burgeoning, but promising role in our mobility landscape.
I mentioned this program to my wife, to gauge her thoughts on it. Without pause, she immediately said, simply, “Well, it brings more people into the library, too. So there’s that.”
Precisely, I thought. Win-win.