Big Brain Awards 2014: Meet the Finalists and Our First Urban Legend Winners

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During 2013's city of Phoenix budget hearings, PSP's Lisa Parks made sure representatives from the biking community attended each meeting to stand up for cycling. All that work and time paid off when the city's funding for bicycle infrastructure rose from $50,000 to $1.5 million. That increased budget has been used to create Grand Avenue's green bike lanes and traffic-calming measures, as well as the soon-to-be-unveiled Grid Bike Share program. Phoenix's bike share will join the ranks of other major cities, including New York, in cementing cycling's status in urban transportation.

PSP also coordinated with the Welcome to America Fund to build 100 bicycles for refugees who use the bikes as their main, if not sole, form of transportation in the city.

Meanwhile, initiatives like the weekly Bike to Work Friday group rides and a holiday bike bell choir, mostly led and organized by the group's coordinator of all things fun, Libby Coyner, demonstrate a dedication to making the cycling lifestyle appealing.

Operating from a desk in the downtown cooperative bicycle command center, PHX BikeLab, which also houses Grid Bike Share and Rusty Spoke Community Bicycle Collective, PSP pursues its main goal: to be out riding around town and speaking at events to act as a voice for cyclists and increase their visibility in the community.

"Our office is our saddles," Allebach-Warble says.

The strategic planning committee of PSP has about 20 core volunteer members. Allebach-Warble has a host of other jobs, including co-creating the Peace Pi Festival, teaching yoga, and working as a photographer. Coyner is an archivist for the state. There are a lot of different personalities coming together to form the Spokes People, but the group is learning how to use its members' strengths to accomplish a common goal.

In the future, a major goal of PSP is to attend every budget hearing this year to further demonstrate the demand for safe cycling options in Phoenix. Currently, the organization's main objective is to get 501(c)(4) nonprofit status (reserved for social welfare organizations) so that it can lobby for change on a state level and endorse bike-friendly candidates (unlike 501(c)(3)s, which are barred from trying to influence legislators) in addition to taking on more grassroots and community-focused initiatives. Coyner says that specific nonprofit designation would allow the group to be tax-exempt and fight for bike rights in ways other nonprofits can't — even though it would limit its ability to get much-needed grant money.

"We realize that when you try to seemingly limit the rights of drivers in the city, the debate gets very heated," she says. "The streets of Phoenix are a political issue."

Until then, Phoenix Spokes People plans to provide bike valet services at different events, hoping to raise enough tip money to keep projects going — like installing bike racks at local businesses. While a fundraiser is planned to raise the cost of filing for nonprofit status (about $800), they say a Big Brain Award would go a long way. Whether or not it wins, PSP has big plans for Phoenix's roads in the future.

"I can't wait to see what happens in the next five years," Allebach-Warble says. "It's exciting to be in Phoenix now because we're creating what we will be known for." — Heather Hoch

Mary Stephens | Urban Vision
For Mary Stephens, it's all about intersections.

Walking through the ever-changing courtyard of Phoenix Hostel & Cultural Center in the Garfield District, she meets a Peruvian jeweler staying the night. He's on his way to Los Angeles to sell his wares. "Mucho gusto," she says, as he wheels his suitcase around the incense-scented historic bungalow to get settled in his room.

Stephens, a Phoenix native who bought the 25-bed hostel from her mother in 2010, says she's passionate about "connecting things that don't necessarily go together."

Her goal in taking over the hostel was to make it a cultural hub, similar to Mexico City's Casas de las Culturas, which she visited during her many international travels. Thanks to her time abroad, she says, "I have come to really respect the creation of arts spaces as radical aesthetic and intellectual alternatives to the status quo."

Stephens credits her English parents and her travels with what she calls her neo-Marxist European worldview with a strong class critique. And in her studies of race, culture, history, and identity in plays, she developed her interest in performing arts as a sociopolitical outlet.

At her hostel, artists and performers converge and uniquely experience Arizona. Its success is obvious. With performances and events held on a nearly weekly basis and past notable guests including Manu Chao, Ana Tijoux, and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, it's clear the space has become a destination for both staying and performing.

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