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Wilmington free bike project sees big spike during quarantine

Urban Bike Project executive director Laura Wilburn says the newly renovated facility will help the group serve the community better. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Urban Bike Project executive director Laura Wilburn says the newly renovated facility will help the group serve the community better. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

With bus service limited in Delaware under COVID-19 restrictions, Wilmington’s Urban Bike Project has seen a 60% surge in interest for its free bicycle program, in addition to sales.

Last year, the Urban Bike Project sold about 330 bikes and gave away another 320. Last week, the nonprofit group sold 50 bikes, more than 15% of last year’s total. Another 16 bikes were sold on Wednesday.

“It’s been a really kind of surprising, but exciting time for us,” said Laura Wilburn, the group’s executive director. “It’s well above normal.”

Because of reduced demand, Delaware’s DART bus service is only running a limited schedule with infrequent service times. Some routes are not running at all. Wilburn said city residents who once depended on public transit are now looking to bikes instead.”

She says demand for bike sales is up 180% over previous years.

The group rehabs old bikes that have been donated. Usually there’s a crew of volunteers who help. Because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus, they’re all staying home, making it tough to handle such a big increase in demand.

Normally, the group takes bikes in poor condition and uses them for spare parts. But because of the high demand, even those that need a lot of work are being refurbished.

“Not only are we having to get more bikes ready, but the bikes we are working on tend to be in rougher condition and require more work,” Wilburn said.

The group just got a $10,000 grant from the Laffey McHugh Foundation to hire a few more mechanics to help out.

“Being able to hire folks has been a huge help for us,” she said. “Both of the folks we’re hiring have seen some pretty substantial cuts to their income as a result of the COVID situation and so we’re happy to be able to support the economy in that way as well.”

Last year, the group gave away 90 bikes to adults, and in cooperation with food pantries in the city, they’re hoping to see a big increase in that number, too. The group is planning a giveaway next week at the food pantry at the St. Patrick’s Center in Wilmington.

“Anybody who comes to the emergency food pantry will qualify for a free bike, if they’d like to have one. It will just be first come, first served,” she said.

The Urban Bike Project has received bike donations from the University of Delaware, Wilmington Police Department, and Smyrna Police Department. UBP is currently accepting donations from individuals. Donated bikes can be dropped off or picked-up by scheduling an appointment by phone at (302) 300-4323 or by email at urbanbikeproject@gmail.com.

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