This past summer, Jeff DeQuattro and some friends got the idea of forming a bicycle cooperative in Downtown Mobile. It was a simple plan – they would get together and listen to music while repairing or modifying their bikes.
Little did any of them know how quickly the Delta Bike Project would grow in importance. For the underserved and homeless populations, this co-op is now playing a vital role in improving their lives.
The motivation of this DBP was never so grand.
“There are community bike shops in most cities,” said DeQuattro, a founding member along with Jenn Greene and Carl Walz. “We had been using my spare bedroom, and we just needed a bigger space.”
In July, an agreement was reached with the Rumor Union organization to rent the back section of a building at 561 St. Francis St., one block off Dauphin Street at the intersection with Warren Street. Having a location in downtown was intentional, DeQuattro said, because one of the co-op’s objectives is to promote bicycles as a form of urban transportation in Mobile.
According to its website, some other goals of the group were “to foster a bicycle community respectful of all people” and “to create an environment where bicycle knowledge is openly exchanged.” But lastly, the Delta Bike Project wanted “to empower individuals to be more self-sufficient with their bicycle transportation needs.”
This is where the Time Is Money program comes into the picture. People who do not have the money to buy a bike from the co-op can work with the group, in order to earn credit toward a purchase.
“Once we opened, we immediately saw a need for our bikes,” DeQuattro said. “These people have no money. Without a bike, they have no way to get to the store or to a job.”
One of the first people to take advantage of the program was James Bush. Not only did he earn enough for his ride, he has come back each weekend as a volunteer. Bush now seeks others who need transportation, and has become an ambassador for the project.
“This is a great thing for people without bikes,” Bush said. “Once I got to meet everyone here, I wanted to give them a hand. There is no pay. I just want to help out in any way I can.”
One of those currently working for a bicycle was Johnny Robinson. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he was cleaning a model that will be made available for sale. It was not the bike he would get. He had chosen a red cruiser, which will cost $50.
The Time Is Money program allows people to earn $10 an hour in credit. Because Robinson had to cut his day short in order to check into a local shelter by 4:30 p.m., a friend had agreed to step in and clean up the grounds. Those hours went into Robinson’s account.
“We consider the four blocks around us as our home,” DeQuattro said. “One of our goals is to make it as nice as possible.”
The original objective of the co-op has not been forgotten. A one-year membership costs $40, which allows for access to bike repair nights along with discounts on parts and bicycles. Currently, Sunday afternoons are dedicated for the work program, while Tuesday nights are set-aside for the hobby group.
One member who volunteers on most days is Thomas Carpenter. He has played a key role, having built numerous workbenches and a portable sound system that can be pulled behind a bike. On this day, Bob Marley was serenading the staff.
“I had heard about the Delta Bike Project, by word of mouth,” Carpenter said. “I had several bikes at home, and I donated two of them. I just like helping the community.”
Carpenter said it is a special moment when someone who has been a part of the Time Is Money program has not only earned enough credit to get a bicycle, but has gained the knowledge along the way to make repairs and to keep the bike running in the future.
“We want to teach them about the bikes,” DeQuattro said. “It empowers them to know how to use tools. This can give people the confidence to try other new things.”
Many of the bicycles at the DBP were donated by the Plan B organization of New Orleans. They are well known for helping bike co-ops throughout the nation. DeQuattro said the bicycles run in price from $35 for “as is” condition, to hundreds of dollars for a higher-end model available for sale.
One such paying customer this day was Sam Dennis. He had come downtown to find a Christmas gift for his girlfriend.
“We had heard about this place through Facebook,” Dennis said. “She thought the bike would be a great idea. We also like how it is helping the community.”
Dennis recently earned a master’s degree in urban planning. He said having a more bike-friendly downtown area is very important to him.
The DBP also sponsors “swap meets” during the year. At the most recent one in August, at least four local bicycle shops participated in addition to anyone looking to buy, sell or trade. The event featured food trucks and a band. DeQuattro said at least 500 people attended.
“We like to work with all the local bike shops,” DeQuattro said. “We are not experts. Simple repairs we can handle, but for major jobs we always send them to the professionals.”
Even in its early stages, the Delta Bike Project is already planning for the future. DeQuattro said a lawyer is setting the group up as a 501(c) non-profit organization, which will allow them to apply for grants. They are also considering a larger meeting space, as they have begun to outgrow their current address.
“If we do move, we will remain downtown,” said DeQuattro, who added they are always in need of more volunteers. “The underserved will still need access to us.”
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