When I walked into freecycles I couldn’t figure out whom I was supposed to talk to. Then I realized that was the point. There are people fixing bikes, people watching people fixing bikes, people giving advice to people fixing bikes, and people picking through all kinds of junk – excuse me, parts – that might be useful in fixing bikes.
Twenty years ago, or so, freecycles started in Missoula. Bob Giordino has been there entire time. It would be too restrictive to call him the boss, or even the manager. Let’s just call him the constant. (In fact, Bob is the founder and Executive Director of MIST, The Missoula Institute of Sustainable Technology, but I learned that from others, not him).
freecycles is nothing more than a cooperative bicycle repair garage, and nothing less than a Utopian vision of how we should all live tomorrow. It’s spacious and messy, friendly and confusing, organized and chaotic. Bob’s eyes dart about the garage looking for people who might need guidance in truing a wheel or greasing a chain. When he’s content that all is fine at the mechanical level, he turns his attention back to me.
“We are going to change how Missoula’s streets are organized. Have you seen the traffic circles at intersections? They were our idea. There are sixty small circles in town and five full-scale roundabouts. There are two to five accidents with bicycles at every traffic light in the city every year. There have been none – none – at roundabouts.”
He shows me a diagram pinned to the wall. “We are going to put the streets on a diet. Where there are four lanes of traffic, we are going to take them to three – one each direction plus a left turn lane. We are going to make bicycle lanes in each direction with the extra pavement.
“Here’s our agenda for the city,” he pulls a small chalkboard off a table and reads the list. “Grow bikes; that means make them from plant material. Road diets; I already explained that. Pick axe asphalt; we need to get rid of that stuff. Portable toolboxes; we need bike repair materials throughout the city. Oh, and we’re trying to raise a million dollars to buy this building. I forgot to put that on the list.”
How will we live tomorrow?