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Bike Lock 

Arcata's cheap bicycle library seeks to rise from the ashes

What remains of the former Arcata Library Bikes is not shiny and new. A pile of rusty cogs, broken spokes and flattened rubber wheels attached to partially disassembled metal bikes sits in front of a painted yellow garden shed off of Alliance Road. Inside the shed, one working mountain bike stands upright and is available to rent for $50.

Used to be, anyone could go and pick out a bicycle at the old Arcata Library Bikes warehouse on Eighth Street for $20. Go by there now, and you'll see Humboldt Medical Supply and the new Rita's Restaurant. But no longer is there a professional, operating bike library. Because last winter, Arcata Library Bikes, a nonprofit, closed after 10 years of operation. Former owner and bike genius Bill Burton said he just could not afford the high cost of rent at that building anymore, and openly blamed the City of Arcata for not funding his non-profit properly and consistently.

"We needed money from the city," he said. "We can't operate on bake sales."

It has now been over six months since Arcata Library Bikes closed. Burton has since relocated his biking efforts and is competing for control of a citywide bike library in Portland, Ore. Back in Arcata, one of his old volunteers operates a second generation "Arcata Library Bikes" without him out of a garden shed on Alliance Road. Meanwhile, the city of Arcata is talking about funding a whole new bike library in December, but doesn't have any ideas on which individuals or group might be able to operate it.

Appropriate locations are being discussed by the transportation committee, but a place right down the street from the old bike library is strongly being considered. The Intermodal Transit Center (a.k.a., the bus station by the Endeavor) could house a bustling epicenter for bicyclists in the community.

When reached at his office last week, Chris Rall, local bike enthusiast and executive director of Green Wheels, said a new bike library is a great idea. "I encourage that," he said. "Whether it be a bike library or simply a bike epicenter in Arcata, it's needed. There needs to be something."

Doby Class, Public Works director of Arcata, said that it is "one of (Arcata's) major goals this year" to re-establish a working, self-sustained bike library within the city.

"The goal is not dead," he said. "It's basically just in hibernation."

How the new bike library would financially operate from month to month would be completely up to whoever ran it, but the start-up cost would be funded by a $150,000 state grant the city plans on applying for in December. That dollar amount would then be matched by the city of Arcata, possibly bringing the new bike library fund up to $300,000.

But this time around, Class said, the city would be a lot more involved in the inner workings of the project, being that they are investing thousands and thousands more dollars into it than last time.

That was one of the major issues for Burton. He said that he received insignificant payments from the city for the first few years, not enough to sustain a non-profit business. But city records show that they paid Burton $200 a month for over 10 years and even a large lump sum of over $25,000 a year before he closed.

Class didn't have any ideas on who could operate the new bike library but encouraged interested parties to contact the city of Arcata as soon as possible.

Such a thing would be a dream for the second-generation "Arcata Library Bikes," the organization housed in the garden shed off of Alliance Road. Since first-generation Arcata Library Bikes closed and Bill Burton turned his attention elsewhere, Chad Johnson has been operating a renegade bike shop out of the same house that previously hosted "Bikes Not Bombs." Johnson met Burton when he volunteered for most of last year at the old Arcata Library Bikes, he said.

When Burton focused on larger opportunities, Johnson adopted the name "Arcata Library Bikes" for his own. He opened the shed as a friendly place for people to stop and rent a bike, or fix a broken one.

But Johnson said that by no means is the shed meant to be a permanent location. He fully intends to continue operating Arcata Library Bikes, but needs more space than what he has, he said. And along with the space issue is the issue of establishing a team of bicycle fixing worker bees. Right now, the "team" is more like a team of one, he said. Since a lot of Humboldt State students left for the summer, he is the only person who comes by everyday to work on the bikes.

"I have been replacing cables and scrubbing rust," he said. "The more the merrier."

Johnson said that people in the community have heard of Arcata Library Bikes' new location on Alliance. "They're like, 'Yeah! That's the place I can dump a bike'," he said. But Johnson said he doesn't mind that reputation. He encourages it. The more bikes that are returned, he said, the more bikes can get fixed and dispersed back into the community.

As it is now, the Arcata Bike Library is more of a community gathering place than a huge money-making enterprise. Johnson said he charges up to $50 for a bike but he never really expects it to come back. When and if they do, it's months later and the bikes aren't in good shape.

"No one comes back with a good bike," he said.

That was one of the issues for Bill Burton when he operated the old Arcata Library Bikes. When he rode by the Journal office last week on his bike, he carried a large box of envelopes with him. Each envelope had a name on it of someone who had rented out a bicycle at Arcata Library Bikes when it was open. But none of those names on the envelopes had actually returned the bike. Burton estimates that there are over 4,000 bikes still out in Arcata today. He says he doesn't care because that means fewer cars on the road.

For the past couple of months, Burton has been traveling to different cities promoting bike-library awareness. Currently, he is one of three contenders for the control and implementation of a new bike library in Portland. But it will be no easy battle. One of his competitors is Clear Channel Outdoors, a multi-billion dollar corporation that already has a bike library in Washington, D.C.

Burton said if he doesn't win the war in Portland, he hasn't given up on the idea of opening a bike library back in Arcata. He has roots here still and is in the area often. But again, he said he would need a steady flow of money from the city of Arcata to support that endeavor the second time around.

"I am waiting for Arcata and Humboldt County to be ready," he said. "I am not giving up. I'm ready. When is Arcata going to be ready?"

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