School district uninterested in building bike community
Garfield High School in the Central District is nearing completion of a two-year, $100 million remodel. The changes to the building are dramatic, but one major change is dramatic for all the wrong reasons: It will have little to no bike parking and no secure covered parking for bikes.
Covered bike racks are a critical component of our transportation infrastructure. By building covered and secure bike racks at schools, we help build lifelong bike commuters and thus reduce our resource consumption and our impact on global warming. We also create a tool to build bike commuting into our science, health and social studies curriculum.
Seven years ago a group of students in the YMCA Earth Service Corps began sponsoring a Bike to School Day at Garfield. They moved the few bike racks that were at Garfield into the courtyard where they would be dry and secure. For five years they ran a low-key campaign to promote bike commuting. In that time, "climate change" became a buzz phrase and they expanded the Bike to School Day to once a month. They have continued this effort while temporarily at the Lincoln High School building.
Unfortunately, the architecture firm of BLRB has little interest in bike racks. Despite knowing the school had a club that was interested in a well-designed bike parking area, one ideally covered, Tom Bates and his firm spent about five minutes designing just two racks holding a total of 12 bikes. One of the racks is in the most isolated and insecure spot on the campus, this to serve a school of 1,600 students and another 120 staff. The school district is no more interested, despite its own policy of no bikes allowed inside any of its buildings.
So, the club turned to the Mayor's Office for help. The Central District is one of Seattle's densest neighborhoods. Almost half the students in the school come from the CD. The school is a centerpiece of the neighborhood with a park, pool, a new gym, a Teen Life Center and an auditorium that are used year round by both the school and local community.
It is also a neighborhood rich in diversity. By promoting bike commuting at Garfield in the Central District, we can also take one small step in breaking the racial divide in the environmental movement, a divide Van Jones terms "environmental apartheid" in his video "The Third Wave of Environmentalism."
Ballard and Roosevelt high schools, both located in predominantly white neighborhoods, have covered bike racks and they have been very successful at increasing the number of bike commutes to school. In Roosevelt's case, the covered racks were built by the city to mitigate parking issues with the neighborhood. Why is that's not the case for the residents of the Central District?
In addition, Garfield will have no yellow bus service next year, so students will have to find their own way to school. The YMCA Earth Service Corps at Garfield is committed to promoting bike commuting and encouraging many of the students to choose bike commuting. In addition, Bike Works is working hard to provide bikes to those with the least amount of means to attain one and the Cascade Bicycle Club is working hard to promote bike commuting to schools regionwide.
There is a lot of interest and energy from a variety of groups to help create a great long-term bike-parking model. Unfortunately, the mayor isn't interested and suggests applying for a grant.
While the neighborhood grant process has many pluses, it is not designed to build basic infrastructure. Every school in Seattle should have covered bike parking. When developers want improvements to local streets near their projects, they don't get a grant. When students ask for help with a critical climate change need, they are told to apply for a grant.
Why? The root of the problem here is poor building codes and poor enforcement, thus the lack of interest on the part of BLRB and Seattle Public Schools. In the short run, we need the city to make this wonderful opportunity a reality and we need Seattle to build better long-term bike parking codes.
Richard Truax is YMCA Earth Service Corps adviser and teaches social studies at Garfield High School.