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WashU Tune-Ups Support Local Youth Biking Program 

Written by Communications Associate, Jarea Fang

If there is one thing Danforth Campus students and staff are familiar with, it’s the sight of bicycles and skateboards either parked or gliding on our sidewalks. Shuttles and buses are also quite a big thing around here, as well as the occasional electric scooter. Even those that drive to campus often carpool with friends or neighbors, which shows that sustainable transportation is not only a well-known concept at WashU, but also a well-practiced one.  

In 2021, the Danforth Campus received a Gold-level Bicycle Friendly University award from the League of American Bicyclists in recognition of our commitment to promoting and enabling safe, accessible bicycling on campus. This achievement could not have been reached without the collaboration of many, with partners as diverse as WashU’s Facilities Planning & Management, the student-run business Bear Bikes, and the close partnership of Parking & Transportation Services (P&T).

Among the organizations we partner with is St. Louis BWorks, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower local youth through experiential learning. Every year, the Office of Sustainability and P&T put on two Active Transportation Months, which feature the always popular Bike Tune-Ups. While our partnership started through a Bike Tune-Up event where BWorks mechanics displayed bike prowess, a friendship was forged as we discovered shared goals in sustainability, youth education, and a commitment to the St. Louis region. This past fall, the funds earned by BWorks for their services at the latest tune-up gave WashU the opportunity to sponsor one of BWorks’ Earn-A-Bike classes. It was rewarding to hear about the students’ hard work and to see their graduation ride around the region, where the photo above captured their smiling faces.  

BWorks and Sustainability 

Established in 1986, St. Louis BWorks began with a program called Earn-A-Bike, which offers children a chance to earn a free bike while they learn about bicycle safety and maintenance from BWorks volunteers. About 350 students graduate from this program every year, free of charge, each earning their own bike, helmet, light, and lock. A similar program called Earn-A-Computer was born in 1996, where children could earn a complete desktop computer system through learning the technical skills they would need to use and maintain it over a six-week course.  

Today, similar programs have taken on a now-familiar moniker. “Hands-on experiential learning in this age-range is huge for student development,” explains Patrick Van Der Tuin, the Executive Director of BWorks. “These days, this concept is called STEAM.”  It is BWorks’ belief that hands-on learning not only satisfies but builds upon children’s natural thirst for learning, which in turn inspires them to pursue their dreams, care for the world around them, and explore new possibilities.  

This brings us to a very important principle of sustainability, which focuses on building resilient communities. Children are our future, after all. What is more sustainable than equipping our future leaders with the skills they need to succeed?  

“Sustainability is a huge component of BWorks, both socially and environmentally,” says Patrick. “While teaching students about bicycle maintenance and usage is often taken for granted, it’s important to note that the population of youth nationwide who bike is dwindling, and getting students outside and active is a huge piece to solving our youth obesity epidemic.”  

BWorks is also mindful of environmental sustainability. Not only is the facility equipped with solar and geothermal heating and cooling, they refurbish, reuse, and recycle an average of 5000 bicycles per year. This is either done through their internal programs or through partnerships with other nonprofits that they distribute to. As for bicycles and computers that can’t be refurbished, they diligently disassemble them to salvage as many parts and pieces as possible for reuse.  

Bworks and Safety 

Another thing that BWorks is passionate about is safe roads, driver accountability, and responsible biking practices. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1,000 bicyclists die and over 130,000 are injured in crashes that occur on roads in the United States every year, while people ages 10 to 24 account for nearly one-third of all bicycle-related injuries seen in American emergency departments.  

“Our students–or any youth, really–should be able to navigate our roads in a safe manner,” says Patrick. “Unfortunately, the current atmosphere in St. Louis for cyclists has gotten incredibly hostile. As the main youth education group for cycling in the region, we have a duty to continue to support our students both in and outside of our programs. So, we ask that our local and state advocates and legislators consider the youth more often. At the end of the day, we can teach our kids to be the safest cyclist in the area, but if the rules of safe driving in Missouri or St. Louis are not used or enforced, what’s the point?”  

“Here are two lines I use: please keep in mind that helmets are not an end all be all for safety, and a broken head is not a broken arm,” explains Patrick, who has probably been asked this question one too many times. “I say this because our hospitals are great at fixing a broken arm or leg from a crash, but science really is not that good at fixing a broken head or scrambled brain. One bad fall can remove all the information that you spent years getting into your head.”  

Wearing a helmet, regularly maintaining your bike, and wearing brightly-colored or neon clothes are just some of the ways college students can prevent bicycle-related injuries. If you haven’t invested in a bike light, back reflector, or reflective tape on your clothes or equipment, now’s the time. You heard it here first, folks. College is expensive, so bike safely.  

More Resources 

St. Louis BWorks is proud to operate primarily through volunteers and donations, allowing students of all income-levels to benefit from their classes. While shopping at BWorks’ storefront is the easiest way to support them financially, you can also help out by signing up to volunteer or donating bicycle and computer parts. For more information and details, please check out this page on their website about donations.  

For more information about biking and sustainable transportation at WashU, check out this list below.