How do you move 47,000 people around a city where driving is prohibited, and the number of licensed mutant vehicles isn’t growing significantly? The answer is bicycles, bicycles and more bicycles! 2007 was a key year for the growth of the Yellow Bike Program. In 2006, members of the Black Label Bike Club of Reno launched the pilot program with plans to slowly grow the number of bikes each year. This year the program got an unexpected major kick in the pants when an anonymous donor gifted 1,000 bikes to the Burning Man Project. The shipment of unassembled bikes hit Black Rock Station just a couple of weeks before the event. DPW staff and Club volunteers undertook the astonishing task of putting them together in a very short window of time. The completed bikes were transported to Black Rock City by truck, except the last load, which came via a pedal-powered armada of bike enthusiasts riding from the ranch to the playa on an historical ride that hopefully will be repeated next year.
Like all new programs in Black Rock City, it will take a couple of years to educate everyone about community bike etiquette. That being said, the program seemed to work pretty well in 2007. Bike volunteers inspected parked bikes to ensure that community bikes were not being locked or hoarded. Bolt cutters helped educate a couple of participants that community bikes are owned by, well, the community. About 80% of the yellow bikes were recovered after the event, meaning that about 20% were taken from the playa either as outright theft or perhaps because people thought they were MOOP and were trying to do their part to Leave No Trace.
Overall there was an increase in bike theft and abandoned bikes this year. Historically no bike has been considered lost until the event is over, because sometimes participants will leave their bike in a certain spot and want to find it later, or someone may have just ‘borrowed’ a bike (no, we don’t condone this). It is not the Burning Man Project’s responsibility to police bike theft when the vast majority of participants still do not lock their bikes, despite warnings heeding otherwise.
The only way bike theft can be solved is if the community becomes more involved in the issue of preventing bike theft. This year a theme camp decided to get more involved. Burning Man staff relaxed the “no bike is lost until the event is over” rule once this camp came up with a workable bike reclamation plan. The camp coordinated with both Burning Man staff and the newly-named Department of Pedal Transportation (DPT). During the event the camp handled lost and stolen bikes. At the end of the event, the camp transferred the process seamlessly to Playa Info’s ordinary lost and found procedure. When Playa Info wrapped up its operation, the remaining bikes were transferred to the Black Label Bike Club for the final search for lost and stolen bikes.
There were over 1,500 bikes left over, which is about double from 2006. The bad news is that this is a direct result of people still not locking their bikes and/or people leaving their bikes as MOOP. The good news is that many of these bikes were donated to organizations in need of bikes, such as the Kiwanis Club, Reno Bike Project, and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Some of the bikes will return in 2008 as part of the community bike fleet.
Plans for 2008 include more community bikes and more education about bike etiquette. Each community bike will have a laminated placard affixed to the bike with the rules for proper use. The goal is for people to bring their own bikes only if they plan to lock them and take them home when they leave Black Rock City. For those participants who choose to rely on Yellow Bikes, there will be more of them and the rules for use will be clearly visible.