What an unusual sight it was, to see Laura Curry and her mobile bicycle repair station parked outside of Sweet_ness 7 on Grant Street. The set-up took me by surprise actually, because I had just seen the contraption in a photo posted on BRO the day before, as part of an update on The Foundry and its goals heading into the winter season (see here). While the mobile unit was not actually built at The Foundry, Laura had worked on some of the finishing touches at the artisan compound, hence her presence at the Second Saturday event… and the reason that I so readily spotted her as she sat outside the café, offering road therapy to some young passersby when pulled up.
Looking back to our initial encounter, I remember thinking to myself that this was a fairly cut and dry story – person builds a mobile bike repair station and heads out on the road doing good deeds for cyclists. Boy, was I wrong. Upon introducing myself, Laura asked me to take a seat at the end of her pedal powered rig, which I briefly hesitated to do because I hadn’t pulled up on my bike, so I naturally assumed that I was not a good candidate for a repair. This was her operation however, and I figured that the best way to learn about the system was to listen to Laura and do as I was told. “Now normally I would record our conversation,” Laura began. “But this is different. What you see here is more than a bike repair station. It’s a Community Engagement Station called Rest Stop Bike Repair Shop. My goal is to learn from people what their experiences are out on the road. I intend to get into the brain of cyclists by chatting about bike culture in Buffalo. What’s it like to cross a street? Or take your bike on a bus? Or get from one place to another with limited (but growing) bike lanes. At the same time, I want to talk to car drivers about what their concerns are when they are on the road with cyclists. Then I want to use all of that information to affect change at a higher level, in order to enhance bike culture in Buffalo.”
I soon learned that Laura was from Seattle, and that her stint in Buffalo (here for an MFA at UB) had caused her concern when cycling from her home to campus. For 30 year’s Laura’s life had been based on “performance grounding” in Seattle, which meant that she was able to redirect her frustrations with Buffalo’s roadways* and create an opportunity to engage the public on the issue. That meant that she needed to create a platform in which she could readily get about in order to find her candidates that would feed her the necessary information. “I built the station at UB with the help of Chris Siano,” Laura said. “I also had the assistance of Buffalo Lab (see Facebook), and Scott Vader who helped out with the electronics. Once everything was operational I set out to record conversations in order to create a dialogue between car drivers and cyclists. I then edit the audio and play it for others to hear. Another way I gather information is to offer “bike dates”, where cyclists can call me and I will meet them for a ride. They can either lead or follow, and I record their narrative as they work out bike/road situations along the way. These are not conversations between the two of us, instead they are shared thoughts as the cyclist interacts with the road. Everything is recorded by a wireless mic and used as planning language that will help to make cyclists safer on the road.”
As you can probably guess, Laura does not own a car herself. For three and a half years she’s been learning about bike culture in Buffalo the best way that she can – by cycling our streets. She’s met up with the Angry Bees, engaged in dialogue with Justin Booth (GO Bike Buffalo), and has become a sounding board for anyone who has something to contribute to the cause. Part awakening, and part intervention, Laura never considered Buffalo to be a place where she would live past her MFA at UB, “But this city is growing on me,” she told me. “I’m particularly interested in the East Side, and have thought about possibly purchasing a house there. To me it’s like the Berlin Wall. The East Side is one of the areas that I like to concentrate on, but I travel all over the city no matter the season. I’ve got studded tires in the winter, so I’ve been riding year ’round. I feel that I can make a difference in this city, and even though I did get a small monetary grant to do this, I use most of my own money to make this happen. Next I would like to get some LED lights and a projector on this Community Engagement Station. I already broadcast the sounds of the road when I travel from place to place… there’s a lot to do along the way.”
For anyone who would like to share their own bike-related story with Laura without having to track her down, you can call her at 716-320-0522 and share your story. Or you can take a seat on her station and tell her what’s irking you (or making you happy) when it comes to bike riding in Buffalo. Oh yeah, if you’ve got a flat tire she can help with that too. Laura is pretty much a one stop shop for anyone who is sympathetic to traveling on two wheels and will do anything that she can to get you back out on the road in a happy, healthy, safe state of mind and body.
*The League of American Bicyclists, in announcing the latest round of Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) awards designated Buffalo, NY as a Bronze BFC.
Rest Stop Bike Repair Shop – Facebook