Brendan O’Brien

The Bikewoman Cometh

A south side community group offers a mobile "bike hub" that repairs bikes and helps you get back on the pedals.

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A design rendering of the Layton Boulevard West Neighbors mobile bike hub. (Image by Nicholas Allen and Ethan Skeels)

A design rendering of the Layton Boulevard West Neighbors mobile bike hub. (Image by Nicholas Allen and Ethan Skeels)

Jezamil Vega-Skeels turns heads as she rings her bicycle bell and pedals her vintage royal blue Robin Hood three-speeder through the Layton Boulevard West neighborhood.

Vega-Skeels is part of the vibrant neighborhood, where ice cream, corn and fruit cart vendors honk horns and ring bells to signal that treats and snacks are approaching.

A neighborhood planner at Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, Vega-Skeels hopes to capitalize on the diverse neighborhood’s energy and get more community members riding bicycles with a “mobile bike hub.” The bike hub is an adult tricycle fitted with bins full of tools and supplies.

“That’s the beauty of this project in that it’s a reflection of this neighborhood,” said Vega-Skeels, an architect by trade. “We are not reinventing the wheel at all … and that vibe will make this project so successful.”

For those with an old or broken bike that has been gathering dust in a garage or basement, the hub will offer a chance to get back on the saddle for free. A part-time bike hub coordinator will ride around the neighborhood during the spring, summer and fall, fixing bikes and promoting bike safety.

Jezamil Vega-Skeels (Photo courtesy of Layton Boulevard West Neighbors)

Jezamil Vega-Skeels (Photo courtesy of Layton Boulevard West Neighbors)

“You are going to have a chance to go to this mobile hub and repair it right there with someone and learn those skills yourself,” Vega-Skeels said.

A band of volunteers, including two architects — one of which is Vega-Skeels’ husband — has helped design the hub while Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin staff has lent its biking expertise to the project.

The pilot project will consist of one mobile bike hub, which is expected to get rolling this spring or early summer. The federation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) of Milwaukee and the Charles D. Jacobus Family Foundation are helping fund the hub, which is expected to cost about $5,000 to $6,000.

If the pilot bike hub project is successful in the Layton Boulevard West neighborhood, it could eventually go into other areas of the city.

In addition to building skills and interest in biking, the mobile bike hub may curb boredom that besets neighborhood kids.

“They don’t have a lot of things to do,” said Jake Newborn, the youth education program manager at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, who works with the Milwaukee Public Schools and its Safe Routes to School program.

Early last year, Newborn and Vega-Skeels began discussing ways to develop bicycle repair and riding skills throughout Layton Boulevard West.

Rather than a bike repair shop, Vega-Skeels said she wanted to “bring service to the community in a unique way and that relates to them.” The idea of a bike repair trailer hauled by a truck or car also died early on because of its environmental impact.

Newborn envisions kids riding their bikes around their neighborhoods and utilizing the nearby Hank Aaron State Trail as a result of the hub.

“(Biking) is healthy, positive and fun and can keep them from getting into trouble,” Newborn said.

Vega-Skeels noted the hub might also spur bicycle sales as community members become more acquainted with biking.

Last week, during a meeting with those involved in the project, Vega-Skeels got weird looks when she kept insisting on finding a place on the tricycle for a bell, she said.

“The paleteros (ice cream vendors) have their own sound, the corn vendors have their own sound, the hub is going to have its own sound so the kids know it’s around.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

6 thoughts on “The Bikewoman Cometh”

  1. I love this idea! Great feature!

  2. Joe says:

    Very cool initiative! Love how that neighborhood has been bouncing back thanks to strong community organization and neighbors pitching in who want to have a neighborhood that’s a great place to raise a family, buy a house and that everyone can be proud of. Love all the projects going on in LBWN and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

  3. Thanks to Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and Urban Milwaukee for great coverage of this exciting community project.

    @Joe – thanks for your kind words about the neighborhood. There certainly are a lot of great investments coming here including new homeowners, new businesses and much more. If you haven’t seen it already, check out our neighborhood brochure/map which summarizes all of this positive momentum: http://lbwn.org/files/LBWN.web.pdf

  4. Beth says:

    Great project, Jezamil! I look forward to seeing this project become a model for the City. Not surprising that this innovative approach is being led by LBWN.

  5. Joyce says:

    Jezamil and Jake,
    Wow!
    Please share this project with the planning and public health communities at the Wisconsin meeting of the American Planning Assocation / Congress for New Urbanism in June. This project will get a great response, and sharing it there will help spread the idea to more places more effectively. For details, contact
    cnuw@gmail.com

    Thanks!

  6. Jezamil says:

    I want to thank all of you for such great support and comments. It’s been an honor to lead this project since its conception and will love to share it with more communities that look forward to a better quality of life. In 2011 we worked with the Layton Boulevard West community and developed a Quality of Life Plan thanks to the support of the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative, so it has been a great journey to not only be part of the vision but also be part of a collaborative action. If you are a biking advocate keep in mind that we are hiring our Hub Coordinator. The deadline to apply is 2/21 and you can find the job description here: http://jobsthatserve.com/index.php?cmd=viewposting&id=9265

    If you are a bike advocate and also have carpentry skills, we are welcoming volunteers to be part of the construction phase!
    ¡Buen Día!

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