About 15 years ago, a wide-eyed entrepreneur opened a premium ice cream shop on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester, a neighborhood known more at the time for gangs than gourmands. The store didn’t last long. Now comes a push by local residents and a business revitalization group for a bicycle shop on Bowdoin Street, an area that serves as a bellwether of change in Boston’s low-income neighborhoods.
A bike shop would be a better fit on Bowdoin Street than fancy frozen treats. But it will be an uphill fight. The hipsters, activists, and downtown business commuters behind the surge in cycling don’t live, for the most part, in the 68-block Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood. And the neighborhood’s residents aren’t rolling in money.
City Hall looks serious about expanding ridership in low-income areas. Its “Roll it Forward” program collects and repairs used and abandoned bikes for distribution to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Yet there are no bike lanes along Bowdoin Street, Geneva Avenue, and other key thoroughfares. City officials proudly offer subsidized memberships to Boston’s bike-share program. Yet there are no bike-share docking stations in Bowdoin-Geneva or other neighborhoods where many people of modest means would qualify for reduced user fees. One reason might be that official counts of riders used to determine interest in biking generally take place along the city’s major commuter routes during peak business hours. Many neighborhoods operate on a different schedule.
So how great is the demand for bicycles in Bowdoin-Geneva?
On Tuesday, Noah Hicks, bike mechanic and local resident, held court at his makeshift Bowdoin Bike School in an 8-feet-by-10-feet shed on an open lot at the corner of Bowdoin and Topliff streets. About 15 bikes — in various states of disrepair — filled much of the shed, including English and Dutch models. Boxes of grips, shifters, stems, and brake pads lined the shelves. Neighborhood kids, mostly in their early teens, descended on the space as Hicks pulled the donated and abandoned bikes from the pile and set them up on repair stands.
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