Saturday, September 17, 2011

Memphis Wins Two Bike Friendly Awards: Is The Local School System Part of The Solution?

I spotted a story in the Memphis Flyer that says Memphis Wins Two Bike-Friendly Awards.

I say it’s about time that the Memphis City Government finally received an award for all its’ positive efforts to make a dream come true!

Moreover, as a substitute teacher, I would like to ride my own to bike to work!  

The Question: Is the local school system a part of the solution?

Some school administrators do not fully understand the long-term needs of carfree citizens and they do not provide the necessary long-term accommodations for bike riders, walkers, or bus riders. Meanwhile, some school administrators improvise the best way they can.

To illustrate, I will only discuss two of my own experiences and please do realize that not all of my experiences have been negative because some schools and even some retail shops are on the bandwagon and they are truly ready to make all of the right moves to accommodate all of us.     

I have substituted at Hamilton High School on a few occasions; I rode on a public transit bus. Then one day, I decided to ride the bike instead. The school administrator allowed me to park my bike inside of the schools huge janitorial closet. It was perfectly safe --- out of sight and out of mind. I deeply appreciated the cooperation from Hamilton.

But, then later, I thought, if someone hides their bike, then no one else will know about it, and they will not try to ride their own bike to school.

According to the National Safe Routes To School, there are several alternatives for getting students to school safely and several thousand schools across the country already participate in this program.

So is there a happy medium between hiding a bike and showing it? I will answer this question later on as I  conclude.   

When I substituted at The Downtown Elementary School, which was only five minutes away from my home, the security guard allowed me to park inside the building underneath this open-air staircase. My bike was perfectly safe and out of the way and in the open, which serves as a prime example of what we should all be doing.   

On the outside of the Downtown School, there is not one place to park a bike long-term --- not one bike rack or light pole is nearby to chain a bike to and especially not nearby the front door where it belongs.

Of course, the day went very well for both the students, and me, as I actually taught the children about conservation and how oil and coal pollutes our air. This lesson was a natural part of their social studies lesson.

Then later, during our lunch break, the students saw my bike parked inside of their school underneath the open-air staircase and located in plan sight as one walks through the front door.

The students were so excited about this and they wanted to learn so much more about bikes and conservation the next day; and, they paid closer attention the rest of the day concerning all other subjects that I was teaching them.  

Unfortunately, on the second day at the Down Town School, a head administrator came to me and said, that I had to park my bike outside and lock it onto a route iron fence. 

This day ended before it started. How sad.

I knew right then that the administrator was unaware of the implications of this action, so I did not argue the point.

Instead, I decided to go back home for the day and loose pay rather than risk loosing my bike, which is now my only transportation to get to work and shop nearby my home.

Let me explain this further: I can always go back to that school on another day; perhaps by then, this administrator will have gained much needed knowledge like the students and me have about the needs of carfree citizens and protecting our planet from pollution.

You see, that route iron fence at this school is well over 200 feet away from the back doors of this school and the back gate is wide open for anyone to pass by and take my bike. Now who might be of help long-term if or when they see someone stealing my bike from that far away? 

Answer --- no one with feet on the ground is close enough!

In fact, I have resolved the issue from my own end by adding a 10-pound monster chain and ten-pound u-lock as part of my armor, but this extra weight often slows me down, especially if I also have extra packages on the bike, like a backpack full of essential needs goods --- rain jackets, reflective vest, and a tire pump just to name a few things. In fact, a backpack is like a car truck for the carfree citizen; and generally, it weights 10 to 20 pounds, as least.

Few people can cut into a lock and chain like the one I have with ease. But, almost anyone can cut through this route iron fence with a pocket-sized hacksaw within a few seconds. They can then take the bike and work on the chain and u-lock somewhere else in hiding.

I did try to explain this situation to the administrator, but they were firm about what they wanted.  

Then, they told me that they also had security cameras, but I already know that cameras without having feet on the ground is not going to keep my bike from being stolen, especially if no one is close enough to nab the offender while they are in the act.

The administrator may not realize that my bike is as important to me as their vehicle is to them. Perhaps the administrator has other advantages, such as a secure parking gauge, car alarms, and security officers that drive around the parking lot all day long.

I was not asked to park where the cars do, as a benefit to me. Yet, I was the only bike rider on or near the premises, which is as far as I could tell anyway; and, I was asked to park my bike in an unsafe environment long-term and so far away from the school doors.

Just because I am the only bike rider there, does not mean that measures should not be in place to accommodate a few bike riders, walkers, or bus riders. For example, bike parking inside of a janitorial closet with some lockers, especially for staff and the occasional guest like myself would be nice.

It would be far safer for all those involved and it will not take up much space.     

Now, our city has taken great measures’ to protect our tourist guest as much as possible. They have installed a state of the art camera system all over the place, especially on Main Street and Beale Street, but without feet on the ground, including bicycle offers, no crime is truly deterred. So, in addition to a walk-bike police force, they generally have squad cars and vans nearby too. Within seconds, officers can be anywhere in the vicinity to pounce on a criminal.

This school does not seem to take all these security measures for bike riders, nor do they have anyone in place to pounce fast enough if a bike is being stolen from the premises. Their only goal is to protect their vehicles.

Of course, I have run into this same thing almost every place I ride my bike, as there are few or no designated bike parking spaces with secure bike racks within a few feet of most doors.  

Instead, there are some poles out front that are often so big that no one can hardly get a U-Lock and a chain around them. I wonder if they do this on purpose. It seems as if we should not even bother to ride a bike to shop at their stores, especially not for utilitarian purposes. 

Memphis is a far cry from being a carfree friendly city. This is a sad situation.

Even still, there is no reason whatsoever as to why all schools and retail shops within Memphis and Shelby County cannot provide indoor bicycle parking along with various other related faculties.

I hope our carfree experiences continue to improve. The best way to do that is to live the life by taking to the roads and sidewalks to prove our point.

As for answering the question from earlier in this post: Is there a happy medium between hiding bikes and showing them --- the answer is clearly a YES!

In fact, there is adequate information about bicycle parking racks, which can be installed and maintained easily both inside and outside of any building --- Bicycle Parking

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