Ride the right path
Bologna | Italy
What is Dynamo?
Simona Larghetti: Dynamo is the first velostation in Italy, it provides services related to cycling mobility. We started a few years ago, as a spin-off of an association called Salvaiciclisti-Bologna (Save the cyclist-Bologna).
Dynamo is a place in which we try to make life easy for urban cyclists. That means providing services, such as renting, parking and repair. As well as information, from very simple things like learning to fix the bike yourself, courses - because we think that the practice has its part in creating more aware users - to more ambitious things like discussions, advocacy actions, space for associations. Furthermore, we try to give jobs to people who do this in a functional way, it is a business and it is a meeting point for all those who want to contribute to the topic: we try to foster a culture of mobility and a culture of being together as a consequence of it, because we think that moving by bike is a choice that goes in the direction of making space for people.
What’s the situation of cyclists in Bologna?
Bologna is a medium/small city and you can get anywhere in 15 minutes by bike. When I first got here I wondered why they didn't all go by bike. It seemed strange. Then they started telling me: “Be careful, they'll steal it”. “The padlock you have is not good enough”.” They’ll steal it and sell it to the students”. And why do students buy stolen bikes? "They don't care." And this thing also seemed very strange to me. I was offered to join a campaign against the stolen bike market so I got involved with this university association that carried out various empowerment activities and proposed a civic student project, that is, students who care for the city, and among other things there was this activity about bikes. I grew fond of it and started working with them on other projects as well. Then I went to England for a while to continue my work as a philologist, but I missed Bologna and also this bike initiative, because to me it meant the relationship with the land. I came back and started to work with the association again. In the meantime I started working in a multinational company. In these days the Salvaiciclisti movement emerged, first spreading on facebook and then with a campaign that was also featured in the newspapers. I was already following this movement at a national level and I got very interested because it spoke about rights. Why do I have to die just because I ride a bicycle? Why can't I take my children to school safely as the law set me on the fringes and doesn't protect me? Again, what kind of city do we want to live in? A place where people live or a place where people move, and by the way in a very inefficient fashion? It’s about cyclist rights, or even better, the right to mobility. Anybody can ride a bike. The right to mobility is not recognized yet, and it doesn’t have a clear shape. It’s about the use of public space. Salvaiciclisti started from the problem of road safety, to reach a complex situation… to define the role of mobility in social, economic and moral change.
In short, a broader discussion on bike mobility had begun and it caught my attention. I decided to create a group in Bologna. So I made an event on facebook, inviting those interested in this topic to meet in a square. This thing of the square lasted a year. We met every Saturday to organize activities to involve people on this issue. The association started from there. It was 2012.
After all these years and much progress, which is the main success of this initiative so far?
For sure the fact of having changed the lives of some people. I don't know whether they are many or few. But when I’m on front-office duties I come across almost every day to someone who says: 'You know, I was always driving a car and I hated riders. I was burned out and embittered by the traffic. Now since you are here I started biking and I am very happy.' That’s the right thing to do and a useful one. Once you give a person the space to live well, you have a potential ally for change.
And the main challenge?
There are two. One inside and one outside. We are a social cooperative. We started in seven and now we are way more. We have many employees. The point is giving a professional dignity to what we do. We want a solid and efficient business, but one that does not lose sight on human relationships. And this is very difficult. Having worked in a corpo and being now on the other side, I know standardization and procedures to mitigate the diversity of human beings are necessary. If you get 60 customers in an hour who want to park the bike you can't waste time talking with one because in the meantime the other 59 are waiting. Our goal is to have a business project in which people can feel fulfilled and not crushed. And it's not easy building a functioning system, having a good reputation, being reliable, productive, guaranteeing rights and at the same time keep smiling and listening to others. It's a matter of human quality, you need to have mature people because to do a business where there is one who leads and the others who follow it's easy. Also being bohemian, with everyone following his/her inspiration, but then nothing gets done. The challenge is to have an alternative style. We are trying.
On the outside, the point is to make Dynamo a replicable model. It works well, the first year we parked 14,000 bicycles. After a few months we recovered the initial investment and we started paying ourselves salaries. So far we are more than satisfied. We want to make sure this thing can be done elsewhere in order to create a habit in people, a culture. It can only work if it goes around.
And how did you start? Have you always had the passion for biking?
Indeed, it is something I really wanted but it has no specific roots. I come from a small town in the Apennines. I learned to ride the bike like all children but I used to live in a hilly area, where distances are big and nobody uses the bike as a means of transport. So it's not part of my culture. But there was one thing that left a mark on me. When I was 13 I wanted to go to classical high school and the closest was 60 km away. When my parents asked me what I wanted they got uneasy because there was no public transport to get to that school. There were a number of school transport services which did not connect the two towns directly. So, to go to school I should have woken up at 5am, changed several times and arrived at school at 7am, an hour before classes start. My mother said: “No, your right to study means that you can choose the school you think is best for you, so now we have to force the public transport company to put a line to link this area with the city”. She called the bus companies, began to ask the mayors of the towns in the area, collected the signatures of the parents with children who could potentially be interested and eventually made such a fuss that they were forced to establish this line, which exists today and it is always full because since the possibility is there kids started to enrol in those schools which they didn't consider before. This story has shaped me on the point to assert one's rights, obviously in a peaceful way, trying to involve people and make them aware. What I've been taught is that if something isn't right you have to try to change it.
To change things, what feature is important?
The bike tells me that to plan a change first you have to try it on yourself. If it works, you have to try it on your friends. If it works, then you have found the key. In everyday relations there are the answers to your problems. The first thing to do is to talk about it with anyone, try to involve as many people as possible, collecting feedback in a critical and honest way. Share as much as possible. The fear that they steal your idea is pathetic. Ideas belong to everybody. The strength of one idea is not its originality. It is the ability to translate it into facts. So if you feel capable of starting a project the first thing to do is sharing with as many people as possible. The more people think like you or at least made a contribution, the more your project is solid. Always care about people. This attention in their regard will make them listen to you.