The New Orleans Community Bike Project exists to promote the use of bicycles and other human-powered transportation; to assist all bicyclists in learning to maintain their vehicles; to provide a space for sharing community resources and fostering community education; and to promote the reuse of materials that might otherwise be thrown away.
What We Do
Plan B is a community-run bike project that functions as an open workspace for bicycle building and repair. The workspace makes an array of professional bike tools available for use to the public for free while volunteers offer free help and instruction in bike repair. The bike project makes donated parts available at low cost. Additionally, complete used bikes are also available at reasonable, fair-market prices. All of the proceeds from sales are used to keep the project running and allow us to offer free stand time, tool library use, and bike education programs to the general public.
Why We Do It
There are plenty of reasons to ride bikes, particularly as a primary form of transportation: affordability, low emissions, reduced urban congestion. We believe having access to information and the equipment necessary for maintaining one’s own vehicle should be available in a community space. We are also strong believers in community-based education and the idea that people learn things from others in a variety of settings. We feel that operating a space where people can share what they know and learn what they don’t strengthens a community. Finally, we think it’s important to rescue useful bikes and parts from the trash and reuse them to counter the extreme wastefulness of industrialized nations.
Plan B, The New Orleans Community Bike Project began as a concept by a determined group of individuals in 2000. Plan B was conceptualized and still operates as a true worker’s collective, where decisions are made collectively and by consensus. The organization is comprised of a decision making body of board and collective members, who commit to certain responsibilities and maintain a required minimum of volunteer hours. Additionally, Plan B is staffed by regular and drop-in volunteers.
A fundraiser in the form of a punk music show was held at The Ark (see below) and walls in the space started going up shortly thereafter. The early days of Plan B were marked by the commitment and vision of a small group of people that simply loved bikes. In 2003 Plan B was granted non-profit status and growth began in earnest. Classes were offered and a kid’s program commenced. In 2004, Plan B hosted the first Bike!Bike! Conference, an international gathering of community bike initiatives. Bike!Bike! has grown to be the primary mode of collaboration among hundreds of bike co-operatives and collectives and now hosts several conferences per year in different cities. Over the first few years, Plan B constantly grew and added services and shifts while being completely operated by volunteers.
After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in partnership with Working Bikes in Chicago and others, Plan B distributed over 1000 bikes to New Orleanians that needed transportation and breathed bike culture and life back into the devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans. Volunteers staffed Plan B like never before in those days, and some of them actually lived at Plan B due to the scarcity of available housing immediately following the hurricane.
On March 9th, 2011, “Quality of Life” officers from the New Orleans Police Department’s 5th district visited the Ark, the building that Plan B was housed in, and effectively shut down all operations within the building citing a lack of permits. The visit was supposedly motivated by an “anonymous” complaint from a neighbor and had “absolutely nothing to do with The Krewe of Eris parade” that had made headlines a few nights previously. Unfortunately, no one within the city’s administration could inform Plan B exactly which permits were necessary to operate within the building legally. Furthermore, the official response from the NOPD’s 5th district commander at the time was, “We’re not sure what permits you need, but when we find out, we’ll let you know.”
Forced into having to operate without having a space, Plan B took to the streets. “Mobile Plan B” was launched, and for a month Plan B operated outdoors on the neutral ground (median) of an area with heavy bike use and at the New Orleans Free Market. Tools and supplies were made portable and operations continued despite lacking a physical address.
When questioned at a community meeting three weeks after the city’s shutdown, the officer’s claimed that “We knew that it wasn’t a non-profit because they were selling things there.” It became apparent at that meeting that the officers were not acting within the constricts of the municipal code and that they were not only misinformed, but ignorant as well. It was also discovered shortly thereafter that New Orleans police officers are not responsible for code enforcement and had been acting under their own interpretation of the law.
Plan B was contacted by high-ranking officials within the city government within three days of the meeting and was allowed to (quite legally) re-open shortly thereafter.
The New Orleans Community Bike Project started in 2000 at 511 Marigny, a 90 year old brick former hosiery factory. 511 Marigny was a community space known as the Ark that over the years hosted a community lending library, an aerial troupe, an arts material recycling collective, as well as a performance space and was also home to hundreds of artists, musicians, and creative forces to be reckoned with. For over a decade the building was our home and we weren’t sure we could survive without being surrounded by such magic and amazing talent. Sadly and inevitably, the Ark was developed in 2011. While this would literally save the building, all of the wonder that had converged there became displaced.
We were fortunate to find a new space at 1024 Elysian Fields, a former Union Hall at the busy intersection of Elysian Fields and St. Claude Avenues. We hope to bring some of the diversity and community that was inherent at the Ark into our new space and we’ve got good company. The building currently houses the Lambda Center and BikeEasy, two great organizations that we love.