The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association wanted a campus bicycle repair shop. The university’s sustainability office was looking for ideas to promote active and sustainable transit options. Bingo. “It didn’t take very long for the administrative folks and the students to realize that there was an opportunity for cooperation,” says Alana Lajoie-O’Malley, director of the campus sustainability office.
Ms. Lajoie-O’Malley stresses, however, that the bike shop was very much a student-led initiative. In 2009, the student association won a referendum to begin collecting an annual student levy of two dollars to pay for a facility. A private capital donation of $100,000 from an alumnus sealed the deal. The UWSA Bike Lab was opened in October 2011 and has since become a major hub of campus activity.
“We’ve seen an overwhelming response to what we’re trying to do. So much so that we’re looking at expanding the facility to accommodate more users,” says Rorie McLeod Arnould, UWSA president for 2014-15. Users can drop in during set hours to fix their bike under the guidance of on-site volunteers. The Bike Lab also organizes numerous community outreach activities and advocates for better cycling infrastructure at the municipal level.
Users can drop in during set hours to fix their bike under the guidance of on-site volunteers. The Bike Lab also organizes numerous community outreach activities, including “build a bike” workshops, a bike mechanics training program, cycling safety sessions and special group rides. The Bike Lab also accepts donor bicycles, which are then restored and offered to those without bikes.
Advocating for better cycling infrastructure is another important component of the Bike Lab’s work. “Our advocacy team has been very present and well received at the municipal level working with the city planning department and councillors,” says Mr. McLeod Arnould.
The lab’s physical space is also a showcase. Designed by Peter Sampson Architecture Studio using donated shipping containers, the Bike Lab won a 2014 National Urban Design Award. Shipping containers are often used as makeshift buildings in warmer climes, but these needed to be adapted for Winnipeg winters. This was important because the Bike Lab, founded in part through the efforts of a team of avid winter cyclists, is meant to be a four-season facility.
This was important because the Bike Lab, founded in part through the efforts of a team of avid winter cyclists called the Ice Riders, is meant to be a four-season facility. The winter cycling team, of which Mr. McLeod Arnould is a member, “is really one of the coolest components of the lab and certainly one of the most active.”