Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bike Your Block Too: Tips for Bike-Themed Block Parties

Presidio Community YMCA at their best

Electric bike station

the fun-cycle!

bike service stop

and the stunt man!

An hour into NOPA’s popular BIKE THE BLOCK party last month, a few neighbors announced, “We’ve got to do this next year” and “We should do this every month.” But the comment that grabbed our attention the most was “I wish we could do this in my neighborhood.” Well, you can!! Here are some suggestions for bringing a BIKE THE BLOCK party to your street.

Keep it Simple. Everything about your block party will be easier – from obtaining a permit to programming events – if you keep your first time out basic and simple. First, select ONE block that has as many of these features as possible:

  • no MUNI line
  • not a major thoroughfare
  • no businesses on the block that depend on car parking
  • no churches on the block that use the street for double parking if you’re planning a Sunday event
  • mostly flat with decent pavement surface
  • good social interaction among neighbors on the block
  • several households with kids of biking age
  • previous experience with hosting block parties
  • a supportive neighborhood association.

Next, Recruit Neighbors to Help. A great many neighbors can be recruited to help, especially if you’re enthusiastic and sell the idea. Emphasize how cool it would be if kids could ride bikes safely in the street, how important it is for neighbors to get to know each other better, how we can all get more exercise, and how there will be events for kids AND adults. Other tips for getting volunteers and support:

  • Go door to door and visit neighbors on the block. It’s not that hard and nothing beats the face-to-face contact for presenting your block party idea
  • Get tangible support from your neighborhood association, such as a mini-grant for the permit fee or the porta-potties. Ask to use its email list and newsletter, contact its parents’ group, and propose and publicize the party at neighborhood meetings.
  • Join the SF Bicycle Coalition (if you haven’t already) and request help meeting cyclists in your neighborhood. Cyclists will be a very supportive group and may help with the planning and programs.
  • Get your local pre-school, elementary and/or high school involved and ask students and their parents to help.

Program Wisely and Moderately. Once you have a location, a date, and a few key volunteers, start to program your party. With the popularity of cycling, it won’t be difficult. Part of our motivation was simply to open the block for kids to bike safely in the street. We also wanted to offer several special attractions that were new and interesting and were likely to create a buzz. Plan on several bike stations spaced the length of the block with more of the adult activities on one end and kids’stuff on the other. Here are some possibilities, from the adult to the kid stations:

  • Bike repair: do this and cyclists will love it. Services can be pumping air in tires, a quick lube job, a polish, or more expert wrenching and adjustments. SFBC members are great for doing this. Recruit your nearby bike shop for gear and volunteers.
  • Bike showcase: show ‘n’ tell for bikes and accessories, especially bike trailers for kids and/or cargo.
  • Bike parking: if you expect a big turnout, talk with SFBC about the best way to provide bike parking.
  • Bike stunts: we were lucky to get a volunteer and folks loved it.
  • Kids skill course: you could do-your-own, but working with the Presidio Community YMCA Youth Bike Program was a huge plus for us. These are great bike people who work well with kids and parents.
  • Bike decorating: all ages but kids really get into the stickers, ribbons, flowers, streamers, and balloons. A bike parade lets them show their bike finery. You can find a variety of stuff at Scrap ( for under $10.
  • Bike art: younger kids love it and allows them to have their own activity too.
  • Bicycle businesses: We were lucky to have a neighbor who works with a local electric bicycle outlet and they joined the fun. See who’s nearby in your neighborhood: bike portrait photographer, bike balloonist, etc.
  • Information table: promote sponsor organizations and provide bike-related info and free bike stuff like tire patch kits and stickers
  • Fun-cycle: if you can book this seven-person circular bike, you’ve got a hit! Fun-cycles can be rented at a few bike outlets in town.
  • If you’re the main organizer, do yourself a favor and don’t assign yourself to one job or location. Allow yourself to roam so you can answer people’s questions and show some on-the-spot appreciation for the volunteers and welcome visitors.

Publicize Your Event. Use every means of publicity and promotion you can. Your block can accommodate hundreds of people. Don’t worry that too many will join the fun.

  • Design an attractive poster. Recruit a volunteer graphic designer. Then mount the poster in every legal place in the neighborhood (not on utility poles).
  • Ask the sponsor organizations to mention the party on their websites.
  • Use all the social networking at your command.
  • Ask bike bloggers to promote your event.
  • Ask your supervisor’s staff to include your event in the district newsletter.

A few more program notes:

  • We found 3 hours was enough time for all the events. Allow for one hour before for prep and one hour after for clean-up.
  • A block map designating specific locations for each activity will help you in so many ways from planning to set-up on the day of the event.
  • Keep it a bike-themed block party with bike-only events.
  • For us, it was easier to have all-free events, even the coffee and pastries provided by a local café and volunteer baker. We wanted a new niche as a bike party (not a street fair).
  • Our party was on a Sunday and we started at 10 am (not too early for residents but about the time kids are ready for action).
  • Recognize and thank everyone repeatedly, especially the organizations and vendors that helped. Part of our goal was to encourage collaboration among the local neighborhood association, the YMCA, a local school, and SFBC.

A bike-themed block party is first and foremost a block party. To keep this post from becoming even longer, a future post will cover basic block party issues: how to negotiate the permit process, neighborhood notification, parking, and city requirements.

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