Free Cycles Missoula and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation
Free Cycles Missoula (est. 1996) and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation (MIST, est. 2001) work to create healthy transportation in the Missoula Valley. Currently serving 25,000 people annually, Free Cycles operates a free and open community bicycle shop that offers empowerment and engagement skills to all that walk through the door. Free bike building, use of refurbished parts, and advice for all kinds of bicycle projects have become a staple for the Missoula community as a result of the organization. MIST, the umbrella non-profit organization for Free Cycles, has been a leader in bringing about sustainable transportation education, relationships and infrastructure for the city as a whole.
A wonderful opportunity now exists to expand the reach and impact of these vital community programs. The property where Free Cycles and MIST have operated for the past 11 years is for sale. A Buy-Sell agreement has been signed, giving the organization until May 8th, 2016, to raise 1.1 million dollars and become the new owner of the two acres of land and associated buildings.
Located in the heart of Missoula in the lovely Riverfront neighborhood- at the union of two primary trails- the property is an ideal place to continue the work of healthy transportation and positive community development. Owning this property and retaining the existing structures will allow for strengthening of core programs and plenty of room to expand for years to come. Organizational ownership will honor Missoula’s heritage and create pathways to a liveable future.
The mission of MIST is to create a network of sustainable transportation systems that are safe, equitable and environmentally sound, with a sharp focus on Missoula, Montana. Free Cycles, as a program of MIST, provides bikes, parts, and help to the community. A main goal of the organization is to increase access and usage of walking, bicycling and public transit while optimizing motor vehicle flow and safety. Throughout this process, public involvement and engagement are essential.
Our vision consists of many aspects related to healthy community and sustainable mobility. Examples include:
Communities with active walking and cycling cultures
Excellent transit systems that run on clean energy
Bicycle station and car share options
Safe and fluid vehicle movement
Networks of greenway corridors that connect people and open space
A local and global awareness of transportation issues and impacts
Free Cycles was founded in 1996 to:
Reduce congestion and air pollution
Provide the community access to affordable bicycles
Recycle bicycles otherwise thrown away
Long term, the goal was to elevate community awareness about bicycling as a legitimate mode of transportation. By creating a better cycling atmosphere in the city, the result would be more facilities and thus more cyclists. Overall, the project aimed to perpetuate a positive feedback loop to create and release demand for bicycling.
In 2001, the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation (MIST) was formed as an umbrella organization for Free Cycles in order to broaden the scope of programs and projects to include walking, public transit, private motor vehicles and city design. MIST now consists of four core programs: ‘Share the City’ focuses on building knowledge, ‘Doorstep Democracy’ focuses on building relationships, ‘Missoula Model’ focuses on building infrastructure and Free Cycles focuses on engaged bicycle building and repair. From 2001 to 2015 there has been steady growth for all four programs.
Free Cycles has occupied several locations and now resides at 732 S. 1st St. W in the Riverfront neighborhood (since 2004). Over the last twenty years, we have recorded:
200,000 shop visits, with most people engaging in bicycle work
18,000 free bicycles earned and built by people in the Build-A-Bike program
5,000 people attending a one hour BikeWell class
600 tons of material diverted from scrap into workable forms of transportation
160 outreach events with local schools
Important societal issues such as climate change, resource conflict, obesity, and overall community health are addressed simply by more people riding bicycles instead of driving.
MIST has engaged with citizens and the City on most transportation projects in the Missoula Valley for fifteen years. Achievements include:
Addition of numerous bike lanes, sidewalks and urban trails
Safe intersections built with modern, single lane roundabouts
Permeable and non-toxic pavements used on biking and walking paths
200 presentations given to classes, committees and civic groups
In addition to infrastructure projects, MIST has provided strong citizen representation for the Long Range Transportation Plan, the Active Transportation Plan, and the Missoula Growth Policy.
The space Free Cycles has occupied for the past 11 years is part of a two-acre piece of property for sale. Free Cycles and MIST are positioned to be the new owner of this site. A Buy-Sell agreement was signed in late 2015, giving the organization until Mother’s Day (May 8th), 2016 to raise $1.1 million.
In an unprecedented way, the stars have aligned to purchase this property. One important factor is that Free Cycles and MIST, unlike all other potential buyers, would retain the current structures. Longer term, a transition can take place towards further property improvements with an eye towards sustainable and healthy infrastructure- our long term goals include being carbon neutral and producing more energy than is consumed.
Numerous locations to house MIST and Free Cycles have been vetted over the last several years in the Missoula community, with none having enough size or access. The benefits to staying in the current location include: a strong community awareness and resonance with the site, being centrally located and on the main trail system, being near downtown and adjacent to two bus lines and the place has ample room to grow in a compact city. The property also affords stunning views of the horizons in all directions.
Property and Context within Missoula
The roughly two acre property (80,000 sq. ft.) contains 28,000 sq. ft. of buildings. Built around 1930 by the Hightower family, the structures have served many purposes over the decades, primarily focused on the steel business. Free Cycles currently occupies 12,000 sq. ft. of space for core programs. Other tenants occupy most of the rest of the square footage and are on a month to month lease.
Property Context within Missoula
History: Old structures have a special place in the heart of Missoulians. The buildings that occupy 732-736 S. 1st W. are sturdy, consisting of large diameter timber framing, solid wood floors and walls, metal siding, and a combination of metal and asphalt roofing. All indications point to these buildings lasting for many more decades.
Transportation to/from Property: Several bus lines run within four blocks of the property, a dormant rail spur is twenty feet from the warehouse back door, Interstate-90 access is one mile north and intercity bus service serving other parts of Montana is available. While passenger rail serving Missoula ceased in 1979, a long term goal of MIST and others is to eventually restore this service, which could eventually serve the property.
Geographically, the property at 732-736 S. 1st St. W is in the center of Missoula. This is convenient to citizens and better affords the possibility of establishing a series of satellite free cycles bicycle shops throughout the community in the future.
By acquiring the property, several objectives can be met. First, current core programs can strengthen and expand. Second, three ready-to-go new programs can be implemented. Third, a series of further-reaching bicycle, sustainable transportation and ‘community care’ projects can begin earnest development. Lastly, a successful campaign to buy the property on S. 1st W. will save the organization $30,000 in rent per year.
Strengthening Core Programs
Open Shop: Ten work stands with tools are available free to the public Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm. Often all stands are full with people learning to repair their bicycle. Staff, volunteers, interns and general shop users all work together to fix and repair bicycles to be ridden in the community. Old help young, homeless help the affluent, and people help each other. At ‘Open Shop’ the bicycle is a medium to raise the collective community spirit and help those in need recognize self-worth. Doubling the space allocated to Open Shop is necessary to meet current and future demand.
Build a Bike: After completing a BikeWell class and completing four hours of service, participants can build a free bike- this includes parts and help to make the bike safe and enjoyable. While a large inventory (800) of bicycles (donated from the community) is available, the space to effectively run this program needs to double in size.
BikeWell and Education: Three classes are lead each week by staff and trained volunteers. BikeWell averages five attendees, totaling 750 participants each year. This class imparts safety, laws, shop expectations, maintenance tips and a StreetWell sections that focuses on sustainable transportation and city design, BikeWell is critical to infusing Missoula with a more sustainable bicycle and transportation ethic. Expansion of space would lead to dedicated classrooms and workshop spaces to further enhance the learning experience.
Programs Ready to Implement
Beyond Bicycles: Free Cycles has produced a diversity of 3-wheelers, 4-wheelers, recumbents, trailers, parking racks, cargo bikes and another adaptive cycles aimed at furthering the effectiveness and reach of pedal power. Turning ‘trash to treasure’ also includes making sellable bike art and practical devices from the unusable bikes and parts that are donated. What’s missing is a coordinated effort based on adequate space. This program will be run by a combination of staff, interns and key volunteers. Products are sold, bartered or put into further community programs. A full description is available upon request.
Community Bike Share: Free Cycles has provided thousands of loaner bikes since inception. Experiments have been on-going to find the most effective and accountable methods for meeting the community’s needs in borrowing a short-term bicycle. The answer for what constitutes an ideal bike share system is likely somewhere between the original free-roaming green bicycles placed on street corners by Free Cycles in 1996-1999, and the now common place high-tech and expensive checkout rental systems in many major cities around the world. Finding and implementing a reliable, community-wide bike share system is an important piece to the sustainable transportation puzzle. 4,000 sq. ft. of new space is needed to implement this program.
Transportation Learning Center: The Transportation Learning Center will focus on bicycles, sustainable transportation and city design. Interns, other students, and the community at large can learn hands-on skills, and also help manage and operate the property and programs. The need is space: small classrooms, larger learning spaces, demonstration models, a library and gallery. This is one of the most exciting aspect of gaining the property and fits with the theme of learning and exploration, inquiry and solution, engagement and resolution.
Programs and Projects for the Future
Broadly under the umbrella of ‘Community Care’, gaining the property on S. 1st St. will allow many dreams and aspirations — some in development and others yet to be determined — to come to fruition as timing, energy, funding and need allows. A sampling of aspirations:
Bicycle Hostel - Visitors to Missoula, especially those touring on bicycle, have very limited options in finding a place to sleep at night. Current structures and new sustainable dwellings can meet this need.
Bicycle Cafe and General Store- Food, drink and provisions are the fuels for walking and biking and also brings people together for social gathering. Neighborhood scale development also fosters a more walkable and bikeable community.
City Design Center- Sustainable transportation is part of a community system that also includes food, energy, water, and housing. The aim of the City Design Center is to look at the community as a whole and forge positive relationships of all components.
Pavement Testing Ground- MIST is becoming a leader in sustainable paving techniques, helping the City of Missoula and Glacier National Park implement projects. Examples of sustainable paving include clay and concrete pavers, pine resin, decomposed granite, stone and psyllium. A variety of methods can be tested on-site while providing immediate practical benefit.
Maywood’s Symphony- A Foundation for Cancer Care, Cure and Prevention- Maywood Giordano led a full and positive life, despite having breast cancer for twenty-one years. This foundation will focus on promoting and providing healthy and active transportation methods, as well as using sustainable and non-toxic materials for city infrastructure. Maywood and her family expressed desire, upon her passing in 2014, to inspire large scale change in the relationship between society and cancer. This desire fits well within the context of the property being focused on healthy living and community involvement as well as bicycles and community transportation.
The People behind MIST and Free Cycles
Four staff (3 FTE) and a 3-person Board of Directors currently lead the organization. Two to three more staff will be needed in 2017 to help transition to the larger space and accompanying programs. All employees will be involved in intern and volunteer recruitment and guidance; taking advantage of the readily available community help. An institutional organizational structure is in place to take this next step.
A 50% increase in staff coupled with a doubling of space is expected to yield an increase of 400% in capacity for community involvement. In other words, instead of successfully helping 150 people on a summer day at the community bike shop, up to 600 people a day can feel welcome and have their bicycling and transportation needs met.
Bob Giordano is the Executive Director and founder of Free Cycles and MIST. Bob has been an active citizen of Missoula since 1994. Beginning his higher education at North Carolina State University with a Business Management major and Environmental Ethics minor, Bob was "always intrigued by the West." After extensive travels, seeing firsthand the environmental and economic challenges of the United States and beyond, Mr. Giordano settled in Missoula to seek solutions.
Bob received his Master's in Resource Conversation from the University of Montana in 2003 and has become passionate about solving the most pressing social and environmental issues. After learning and teaching about bicycles and healthy city design for the past twenty years, Bob is striving to create a more sustainable way of life for people and our relationships with the Earth.
Emily Jensen is intensely passionate about community, nature and the intersection of the two. Always intrigued by the Free Cycles model, Emily immersed herself in an internship during the spring of 2015. Her original involvement focused on Climate Change solutions and organizational development. She quickly embraced the dynamic nature of the community bike shop, helping to lead operations in the summer 2015. Emily now fulfills a dual role: Programs Director for MIST while completing a learning-based practicum to receive her Bachelor’s in Social Work, effectively training herself on managing the social aspects of her work as program director. Emily has an anticipated graduation date of May, 2016, from the University of Montana.
Locke Hassett started working with Free Cycles in July of 2015, as one of two shop directors. A Montana native, Locke has lived in Missoula for the past 5 years after moving from the Swan Valley to pursue higher education and other aspirations. His passion for bicycles began as a child, skidding through fallen larch needles then exploring public lands by mountain bike. Locke helps to manage the shop and the website, and coordinates workshops and seminars. He brings a background in the service industry as well as peer to peer education in a variety of settings.
John Bonewitz grew up in the suburbs of the Dallas Fort-Worth metroplex- where bicycles are few and sustainable transportation nonexistent. He left Texas and has spent the last five years traveling across the country. He has hitchhiked, bicycled, and walked thousands of miles across the land- from Montana to Mexico, Chicago to San Francisco. John knows what it means, in every sense, to be ‘on the road’.
Yet traveling is not about movement alone; it is the people, conversations, and human connections that brought meaning to John’s wanderings. When the road eventually brought him to Missoula, he found Free Cycles. Free Cycles unifies his aspirations to help people, fix bicycles, and provide alternatives to urban transportation models. John now works as a Shop Director, helping people facilitate their own freedom of movement.
The sheer amount of volunteers who are enthused to help both MIST and Free Cycles is outstanding. Thousands of hours a year are donated by people coming into the shop. The diversity of people willing to help in any way is heartwarming. There are certain folks who spend time regularly helping out, people who are trading work hours for bikes, students meeting class requirements, and sometimes people passing through on a bike tour stop and help. All of this volunteer help is being utilized for the Cycles of Change campaign to buy the property.
Community Partners and Outreach
Free Cycles has been establishing connections with a diversity of organizations, agencies, and businesses for years. The accessible resources provided by Free Cycles through collaboration has been invaluable. It is crucial to maintain these relationships for community involvement. Examples include: Pre-Release Center, Youth Homes, the Poverello, Endeavor Homeschool, The University of Montana, The International School, Missoula in Motion, Spirit at Play preschool, Winds of Change, the Share House, most Flagship programs, and many, many more.
Free Cycles started with $2,500 in local business donations in 1996. The budget has steadily grown to $88,000 a year through donations from the general public, fees for services, small grants and events. Outside of major financial campaigns such as ‘Cycles of Change’, the budget will steadily grow over the next several years. This can be achieved through the organization’s current channels of engagement and involvement.
Cycles of Change Campaign Status & Timeline
Please visit our "Recently" tab for more information about the campaign.
A five-year business plan with detailed financial statements is also available upon request.