Westlawn event helps create healthier environment for neighborhood

“Get Wheelin’ in Westlawn” is a community bike ride and bike repair event, but it’s part of something bigger than that, Anne Dressel says.

“The Westlawn initiative is one of the ways we’re trying to get people out of cars and onto bikes instead,” Dressel, UWM assistant professor of nursing, said at this year’s event, the 10th annual. “It addresses air pollution, but it also engages people in a healthy activity. It’s community building.”

The event was organized by the Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment, which was established by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is a partnership of community stakeholders that identifies and addresses environmental health risks in the neighborhood, on the northwest side of Milwaukee. Founded in 2008, the partnership is comprised of Westlawn community members, the UWM College of Nursing, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, and many others.

Students repair bicycles

Bicycles were repaired at the event by students from UWM’s Bicycle and Motorcycle Engineering Research Laboratory and staff of DreamBikes, a nonprofit that operates in low-income neighborhoods as both a bike shop and source of teen employment.

There are no bike shops in Westlawn, the state’s largest publicly subsidized housing community, so people have no place nearby to repair their bikes, Dressel said. Dressel estimated the program has repaired over 1,000 bikes for free over its 10 years.

“It is great for the environment and good for the people,” said Andrew Dressel, the director of UWM’s Bicycle and Motorcycle Engineering Research Laboratory. “Bike accessibility is necessary because easy mobility is a real problem for the community.”

Bicycling ‘very therapeutic’

A UWM civil and environmental engineering lecturer, Andrew Dressel was responsible for leading bike repairs and recruiting student volunteers.

“Bikes have been very therapeutic for me,” said Phillip Van Asten, student volunteer and Bicycle and Motorcycle Engineering Research Laboratory member. “Anything I can do to help others get that experience is something I want to do.”

In addition, UWM’s Silver Spring Community Nursing Center, located in Westlawn, has worked with the community on various healthy living programs like “Get Wheelin’ in Westlawn” for over 30 years.

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