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How a Group of Young Bike Advocates Are Reshaping Reno

10:54 AM EST on December 13, 2012

Reno, Nevada isn't known for safe streets or retaining its young people. But according to Jessica Reeder at Shareable Cities, that's starting to change.

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Reno's bike safety efforts recently earned it honors from the League of American Bicyclists. And the credit is due in large part to a group of young people who are working hard to make the city more livable, according to Reeder. United under the banner of the Reno Bike Project, a handful of 20-somethings have organized to win the hearts of minds of city leaders when it comes to reshaping city streets. And while there's still a lot to be done, they've had a good deal of success so far, Reeder reports:

During the boom years of the 2000s, Reno invested in expansion at the expense of community. New housing developments sprang up on the outskirts, and what had been a geographically close community soon found itself strung out for miles along the north-south highway. Kids like Kevin Campbell felt stranded in their own neighborhoods, without affordable transportation to reach the town center. “Young people feel stuck,” Campbell says. Without jobs and affordable amenities, Reno wasn’t a livable place for the struggling younger generation. So they just left. Nearly all of Campbell’s classmates moved away after graduation.

Jeff Mitchell, Reno Bike Project’s Program Manager, calls it a “brain drain”. “There's been a large amount of flight out of our city to Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, New York. There are a lot of people from Reno doing a lot of cool stuff that doesn't benefit Reno, because they're doing it somewhere else.”

The Bike Project’s founders – Noah Silverman and Kyle Kozar – also loved riding in Reno, and simply didn’t want to leave. Along with a growing group of young adults working in the arts, food, agriculture, and politics, Silverman and Kozar chose to stay and fight for change. They found support in a few influential local figures, who realized early on that investing in young people would be the key to helping Reno-Sparks survive the economic downturn.

They started with bicycle donation drives, founded a nonprofit repair shop, and quickly dug in to bike advocacy. The response they received – not just from riders, but from City Council members, media and the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) – was overwhelmingly positive. In just five years, Reno redesigned its priorities, made systemic changes and was awarded the American League of Bicyclists’ “Bicycle Friendly Community” Bronze status.

Sounds like a lot of cities around the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Reno!

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Transit Blog says Washington's outgoing governor, Christine Gregoire, is putting forward a slew of highway projects as one of her final initiatives. ReCities makes a compelling case that beauty is part of what we should be striving for in our cities. And the Bike Beat Blog wonders if the somewhat rebellious act of cycling in America leads to radical thought.

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