Finding our Tribe

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Me (Stacy), Oliver and our new city. Looking south toward downtown Buffalo, NY.

Have we met? For some of you, upon meeting me, I was probably a bit enthusiastic, chatty, opinionated, scrambling my conversations, trying too hard to figure out who you might like to meet and what resources I might be able to connect you with. For others I might have asked too many questions. Sometimes I am quiet or cold and curt. I think we all wear many hats into many different arenas. Right now, in my strong desperation for building up connections in a new city, I am being a little forward. Maybe I do this without any excuse all the time, but right now it’s getting out of control.

Before we moved to Buffalo I did some research. I researched the usual stuff, like neighborhoods, houses, and schools. I looked endlessly at maps to find libraries, grocery stores, yarn shops, ice cream parlors, children’s venues, natural resource shops, and Canada. I checked for interest groups. I looked for bloggers. I read a little of the local papers and magazines online. It all looked good enough.

What had my heart thumping was when I finally found a glimpse of a cargo bike and other cycling families. This was a needle in a haystack endeavor. Search engines were not providing me anything under the terms “cargo bike,” “bakfiets,” “longtail,” “longjohn,” “family cycling,” and many other variations to find families and children on bicycles in Buffalo. There was nothing except Urban Simplicity‘s blog (his son has graduated highschool) and a craigslisting for an Xtracycle. Them some slim pickings.

Then I saw a photo in the Buffalo News covering Play Streets. Or maybe it was on GOBike Buffalo‘s site of a Safe Routes to School event? Of course I can’t find the article or the photo now, because like I said, it was a needle, in an enormous haystack. In the photo, not prominently positioned, was a bakfiets. A bakfiets! This should have made headlines, but not here. Maybe this bicycle was so normal and families riding in boxes was so mundane it wasn’t note worthy. I could only hope.

With in days of arrival in Buffalo we went scouting for a bike map. Something that would illustrate the safest streets for cycling with children. We came home empty handed, however everyone we talked to at Rick¬†and the GOBike workshop said we needed to get in touch with Justin Booth, as he had “this weird bike.” A couple weeks before we relocated, Joe George, with Urban Simplicity, said we ought to connect with Justin, because he had a cargo bike too. Ok, Justin, now we were on a man hunt. I sent him a message on facebook that went unreturned. All those who would drop his name said he was busy with a lot of volunteer work and his family. I respect this. I am this. I still wanted to find this elusive link to what could be a prosperous family bicycle connection.

A week into the school year where the boys attend I asked a man in the parking lot if he worked there, because I had seen him a few times and he was wearing a name tag, which most of the faculty were not doing. He introduced himself as a Say Yes¬†coordinator at #54, our school, and then we talked about my bike where I was buckling Oliver, the three year old, into. Mr. Antoinetti (sp?) mentioned organizing the school’s bike to school day. You don’t say?! He also says he worked with one Mr. Justin Booth and we should meet. Alright, that’s it. Where ever you are Justin, I will find you.

I posted some casual witty remark in a Buffalo Family Bicycling group on Facebook (It has tribe potential, but I’m getting blank stares right now. A lot of helpful insight, but no family riding buddies. Yet.), and I got a reply, from the man himself. We made arrangements to meet up for coffee last week. I dragged my husband with me because I thought, this could be it. We have found our people.

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Coffee with Justin Booth. A significant piece of the people puzzle.

To get to Spot Coffee on the corner of Delaware and Chippewa, you have to go where you have never gone by bike before, and trust that you will arrive safely, and on time. It worked. Here’s how we got from home, in the University Heights, to school on Main, to drop off the boys, then to downtown, on our dual-Yuba morning:

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We used the sidewalk on Main Street, having to walk over the curbs at Humboldt Parkway because there were no curb cut, and slowing down along Forest Cemetery because the asphalt side walk was torn up by tree roots. Then it was groovy. Lafayette Avenue was quiet at 9AM ish, the two directional bike lanes and single directional traffic on Linwood Avenue was sweet. The lack of street signs going south needs some improvement but being met by a bike light at the end made up for the annoyance of craning my head around mid intersection to make sure I didn’t pass my turn. We jogged from Linwood to North Street to Delaware Avenue to catch the new bike lane. Downtown was alive, but not overwhelming with vehicles or people, making Brent feel more at ease having Oliver on my deck as we ventured into new territories.

Bike traffic lights!
New bike lane on Delaware Avenue, the southern portion. Striped this summer.
Bikes, everywhere. About five on the rack in the back and a few on the rack we were locking to.

It’s clear I didn’t do my research well. I was looking for a bakfiets, not a face. Sorry Justin. I was just a little too enthusiastic and hopeful that what would roll up to Spot Coffee was a box full of little children. It’s was also not my expectation that the family man I was seeking out would be the executive director of GOBike Buffalo. Surprise! No one mentioned this to me. Or I wasn’t listening. That’s probably the right answer. We didn’t find our tribe, we found the tribal leader.

We I jabbered on for over an hour, comparing notes on cycling advocacy progress in Buffalo and the work I was involved with in Huntington. We wrapped things up with an open ended “how can I help you?” and “what do you want to do to help?” Then Justin took us on the short tour of the lower west side neighborhood, setting us out on a calm path to Buffalo State to bring Brent to work. It was a joyful and inspiring morning. The stalking sleuthing paid off in dividends.

We still need to reconnect about tossing all my children into his box bike and chugging them upslope for miles on end.

The full day in map view:

View Larger Map

Bikeway that passes under the interstate, close to the lake.
Still on the bikeway, passing a high school mural wall.
More of the bikeway where it goes through the Japanese Garden.
We made it to Buffalo State!
After a walkabout campus, and lunch, Oliver and I went home, via Delaware Park, stopping for a peace filled moment on Hoyt Lake.


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2 thoughts on “Finding our Tribe”

  1. Stacy, I’m glad you are settling in and starting to make connections. I know of a number of bicycling families (none that are completely car-free besides you, though), but the community is disconnected right now. I started the Buffalo Family Bicycling group on Facebook about a week before you moved here, in an attempt to build up those connections and make this community stronger and more tangible. Even just for your sake alone, I’m very happy I did create the group when I did. Eventually, I’m hoping we will reach some sort of critical mass and it will become self-sustaining. I have been plugging the group to just about everyone I meet with a kid on the back of their bike, and considering printing some business cards to hand out!

    I’m thinking an event like a Kidical Mass group ride would be a great way to strengthen the community and publicize the online group. It would be great if such an event could be organized this fall, before the weather turns and scheduling a ride becomes a dubious proposition. Are you still interested in helping organize? I would love to hear about how things went in Huntington and what kinds of unexpected obstacles you ran into when getting some family group rides going.

    Oh, by the way, you are absolutely right about the lack of street signs on Linwood when heading south! I put in a 311 request about this and got an obnoxious reply back that all the signs were present. I think they misread my email and didn’t quite grasp that I was saying that the signs that are currently “supposed” to be there are not sufficient now that they’ve added south-bound bicycle traffic! (Although really, they should always have been there for pedestrians as well.)

    1. Jesse! Yes, I would love to help organize a KM ride. The sooner the better…I am being talked into volunteer work elsewhere. I will send you an email soonish. I know those cycling families are out there, I am just impatient…er, eager to meet them! I also think they are not in our neighborhood, which isn’t to our advantage. We weren’t without a car till we moved here, and it’s likely we will get a car, but you do what you have to do sometimes, you know? So, car-freeness isn’t what I am looking for. I am seeking people who use bicycles for transportation with their children. I see plenty of commuters and many children tooling around the neighborhood afterschool. I don’t see kids going to school by bike, or people carrying things by bike beyond the lunch box and briefcase. Can you help me find them? However, I know this is a niche market, and I didn’t have those folks in WV either, or rather they were all in a different neighborhood too.

      Thank you for reading! I’d like to build my Buffalo audience and use the blog to help draw some people into cycling. Show them what we are doing and the how and where. I think Buffalo has a lot of great things going for it and I am very happy to be a piece of it.

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