BRATTLEBORO—A local bicycle-advocacy group, VBike, brought home the Notable Project of the Year award from the Vermont Walk/Bike Summit held in Rutland in early April.
VBike, founded in January, 2015, by Dave Cohen, is a nonprofit organization “working to update and rejuvenate Vermont’s bike transportation culture by introducing new innovations and technologies.” [See “A bolt of innovation” The Commons #310, June 17, 2015].
The Walk/Bike Summit was organized through partnerships among the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT), the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition, and other sponsors.
According to Cohen, the event brought together legislators, Vermont’s Commissioner of Health Harry Chen, municipal planners, walking and biking advocates, and representatives from the AOT, to answer the question, “How are we going to increase the level of people walking and biking, using their bodies?”
“So much has changed” since he founded VBike, Cohen said. When he presented on the neuropsychology of bike-riding at the first Walk/Bike Summit, “I didn’t even have bikes to bring,” Cohen said. At this year’s event, Cohen could boast of the success of VBike — and bring four bicycles from VBike’s fleet.
“That’s a big change!” he said.
In just over a year, VBike has worked hard to get people on two wheels. The organization secured a contract with Vermont’s alternative-transportation state agency, Go Vermont, to provide free bike consultations to help people choose the right bike, including cargo and electric-assist options.
And VBike worked with the Vermont State Employee’s Credit Union [VSECU] to develop the first low-interest loan program for bikes, cargo bikes, e-bikes, electric-assist conversion kits, and accessories purchased for bike transportation.
Cohen said VBike’s presence at the event “was made possible from the generous support of VSECU and Go Vermont."
During the next few months, VBike will roll out two new features: a pedal-powered delivery service for home-bound Brattleboro Food Co-op shoppers, and “Take It Home,” a bike-loan program.
Vermont is lagging behind other states in promoting bicycling as a viable form of transportation, Cohen said, and this worries him.
“If we want to stay in the 1950s [regarding] transportation, great,” he said, “but we’re going to suffer” if we focus all of our resources and infrastructure around automobiles.
“It’s not good for economic development,” he said. Cohen believes if the state wants to attract young people, especially “millennials,” it needs to increase access to walking and biking as transportation.
“VBike is about making the bike relevant,” Cohen said, noting the group’s unofficial motto is “car-reduction therapy."
In a follow-up email to The Commons, Cohen explained that VBike is about “envisioning a positive future,” and that will “not just involve some techno fix. It will also involve a renewed embodied experience of the world and a profound reawakening of our sensory and emotional attunement to the ecological and social realms we inhabit.”
“The automobile, no matter how it is powered,” he continued, “is generally designed to dramatically reduce us in these capacities while enabling us to see and experience the world through the point of view of the machine and its needs. We need to re-humanize our streets, communities, and our own connection to our bodies and our landscapes. VBike is about empowering Vermonters to bring our selves back to the ’real world’ and modeling for our children and our communities what that looks like.”