By Joe Earle
Mitch Garber describes himself a man on a mission.
He calls it a “modest” mission. But it’s his mission, nonetheless. These days, you might even call it his crusade. “It is,” he said, laughing a bit at just how all-consuming his supposedly modest mission has become. “At this point in time, I might as well call it what it is.”
Garber’s goal is simple. He just wants a place to park his bike.
Or, as he puts it, he wants “safe, secure, appropriate, low-maintenance bike parking throughout Dunwoody.”
“Over and over again, you go to every single place [in Dunwoody] and there’s no place to park a bicycle,” he said. “That’s not an oversight, it’s a culture. There’s no sense of the bike as a vehicle.”
And if he manages to change a few minds about cycling as he crusades for bike racks – er, make that bike parking – in Dunwoody, so be it. After all, that’s what crusaders do.
Garber, a tall, slender man who talks quickly and whose dark beard shows patches of gray, definitely thinks of his bike as a vehicle. It’s his primary mode of transportation. He sold his car years ago. He used to ride his bike to the MARTA train station every day as part of his commute to his job in the federal building in downtown Atlanta.
He works from home now, so he bikes to the store or to run errands or to MARTA when he needs to head to the airport to travel for work. “I bike to get everywhere,” he said. “My wife doesn’t let me use the [family van]. All my traveling is by bike.”
Garber has been biking for years. He started, he said, when he worked for the U.S. Air Force in a small, flat, border town in Texas. Cycling quickly became a passion. “I was a single Jewish boy in Del Rio, Tex., which you can imagine was a happening place,” he said. “I lived out on the edge of town. You could see all those straight, flat roads.”
When he started out, he logged 2,000 miles a year on his bike. He figures he may have traveled 25,000 miles by bike before his children were born. The 47-year-old, who claims degrees as both doctor and engineer, now has three children.
When he and his family moved to Dunwoody about seven years ago, he was disappointed at how difficult it proved to find a place to park his bike. Dunwoody seemed like a fine place for bicycles, he said. Everything is close together. And drivers are courteous to bike riders. Still, when he saw another bicyclist on the road one recent night, each seemed to look at the other with surprise. “We’re both looking at each other like ‘who the hell are you? I didn’t know there was another one.’”
When he biked around town, it was hard to find a place to park, he said. Eventually, he began to sort of take it personally. “I think I’d like a little respect for riding my bike,” he said. “When there’s no place to park, it says, ‘We don’t need your stinking bike.’ Now it’s become like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ This has become my ‘field of dreams.’”
Once Dunwoody became a city, Garber saw an opportunity. He pulled together about a dozen bike people as the Bike Parking Task Force. They met several times. Eventually, bike parking supporters proposed that U-shaped, 36-inch-tall stainless steel bike racks be installed all around Dunwoody.
Garber provided much the energy driving the task force, said member Natalie Molnar, outreach specialist for REI in Sandy Springs.
“He’s very passionate about cycling and issues around cycling,” she said. “He’s definitely a good person to have on your side.”
One the design for the bike racks was decided upon, Garber tracked down a stainless-steel fabricator who would make them. Now he needs to find 30 sponsors who will agree to pay $240 apiece to have the bike racks installed.
That’s why he spent his Columbus Day holiday biking from shop to shop to try to find backers for the racks. He brought along a sample to give the shopkeepers an idea of how the finished product would look and to try to win support for the project.
“I cannot make an argument it’s going to make a lot of money for the people who put them in…,” Garber said, “[but] it is the right thing to do for the community to be the kind of place people want to live in. It has to be the kind of place where people get out and bike and walk to get around and not sit in air-conditioned boxes all day.”
At mid-day, as he lunched on salad and bread, things weren’t going well. He needs commitments for 30 bike racks to place the first order. Garber was growing frustrated. He’d collected a lot of positive comments, but few solid promises of cash.
“My fantasy is that a very wealthy person who has seven grand sitting around says, ‘I’ll buy them,’” he said.
But no such person had appeared, he said. So he keeps pedaling, sample bike rack bungee-corded to his bicycle.
“I thought this would be simple, believe it or not,” he said. “I’ve always thought it was important to do something for your community and I thought this would not be too hard. It turns out it’s crazy hard. If they put these in, when I am buried, my children can point to these and say, ‘My dad had that put in.’ The stainless bike racks would outlast me, and probably them.”
He paused a moment. “I’m hopeful,” he said. “I still believe it’s possible.”