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letters to the editor

October 26, 2010

The Writing Life

So I thought I’d update you on my battle to get a bike rack installed outside of a popular local coffee shop. You’d think I were petitioning for world peace at the rate this is going: still no progress made and still getting little encouragement from the local business owner and the local officials. But, as of last week, I have voiced my grievances to the two local papers – the college paper and the city paper – in two letters to the editors. What has been a pleasant surprise is that I have since had several students and a colleague come up to me to tell me that they had seen one of my letters in the paper.

Success! My hope is that enough people will read my letters that possibly two things will happen: 1) Other cyclists will demand a bike rack and we’ll get results due to numbers. OR 2) The city council will see it and maybe the city traffic engineer will finally take or return my calls so that I may put it my request with the city.

Truth be told, I feel a little silly spending so much time and effort all in hopes of a bike rack. It’s such a little thing and one might wonder whether it’s worth such a fight. But my answer would be that this is about more than just a bike rack. It’s what this bike rack symbolizes – the lack of accommodations available to those who choose not to drive in this town and the unwillingness of those responsible to even consider changing what needs fixing. And if we can’t count on our city officials to help us out, how can we expect anything to ever get done?

So that’s the update on My Fight For A Bike Rack. Sure, some may take on nobler causes, but I’m starting small and might just move up to a bike lane next. Stay tuned.

And if you’ve missed my previous posts on this, here’s a brief back story:

I first thought of asking for a bike rack when I repeatedly found myself looking for a place to lock my bike at said coffee shop. The only available objects are a few parking meters, a couple of poles, and one lone tree. All of these are usually in hot demand and already cluttered with bikes chained to every available inch of sturdy material.

I made a few phone calls and obtained the information needed to request a bike rack. I then wrote the business owner in question a nice note detailing what he would need to do to request this item on his patrons’ behalf.

It’s been over two months and many inquiries later and the owner is yet to make a call about this. Meanwhile, calling the local traffic engineer (which I was told by city hall to do if the business owner isn’t willing to cooperate) has resulted in another dead end. I’ve made several calls and left detailed messages and have yet to hear back from anyone. My letters to the editors outlined these steps and how both have resulted in dead ends due to the unwillingness of both the local business owner and the city official to consider my request.


19 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 12:49

    That’s frustrating. It may be a matter of money. Does the City have a program to pay for the bike racks? In many cities, even though the bike rack will be public infrastructure in the public right-of-way, the adjacent land owner still gets stuck with the bill.

  2. Gary permalink
    October 26, 2010 13:14

    If this business owner doesn’t have enough interest to provide this rack for his customers, perhaps it’s time to consider another coffee shop. Is this the only shop close to you?

    • steve permalink
      October 26, 2010 13:41

      I have to go along with Gary’s comment. Could it be that this business does not want a bike rack and what does this say? In your patronage of this business is this owner just patronizing you?

      • October 26, 2010 17:42

        Yes, unfortunately, it has proven difficult to boycott this place although I’d love to because the owner is really a difficult person who seems more in it for profit rather than customer service. (Profit making is ok when you at least take some interest in what your clients would like).

        But it’s a place that is close to campus and everyone always goes there for meetings and such, so it’s been tough to avoid. I have when on my own opted for one other place that’s much much smaller and has less seating (hence the aforementioned cafe usually being the venue of choice for groups).

        This is why the owner can afford to be so careless with his clientele; he really has a monopoly on the places around campus that offer good coffee and food and a place for faculty and students to gather.

  3. October 26, 2010 13:21

    Keep fighting the good fight! I would love to see you finally get your bike rack. And I don’t think this is a small battle or insignificant in any way. It’s the little wins, the smaller issues, that make people stop and think, “Hm. That didn’t seem so hard. Maybe I can try to make a small change, too.” Which, ideally, will lead to bigger and bigger battles and bigger and bigger wins!

  4. October 26, 2010 13:40

    I believe you’re doing what needs to be done, and don’t think this is a silly cause at all. Even in a city such as mine (which is supposedly bike friendly), I still find many places which do not have bicycle racks (or bike lanes, for that matter). It drives me insane! Actually, one of the most presently annoying is the nearby Home Depot. I know it seems strange that a hardware/home improvement store would be tops on my list, but I do spend a lot of time there getting supplies to make canvas supports, and I’d appreciate a place to lock my bike up. Unfortunately, (besides my hubby) I don’t think there are others who bike there, so odds of me getting a response from the HD is somewhere in the range of slim to none.

    Keep up your campaign though. The squeaky wheel really does get the grease, so I think it’s only a matter of time before someone hears and responds to your requests.

  5. October 26, 2010 15:02

    (Sorry, this is long- feel free to email me directly if you need to). I have worked as a planning consultant and as such have a fair amount of experience dealing with city planning departments, and have to say that G.E. is right that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. How is your city government organized? Does your city have city councillors and council meetings? There is always a public comment portion to those meetings, or you can arrange to get on the docket in advance. Each person is usually given a set amount of time to state a case in front of council. Often at our meetings one person will speak, but they’ll have brought many supporters with them to fill the audience. Its just another way to make the point that you want something reasonable, and it allows the council to make citizens happy very easily. Further, I’d advise looking into the city departments– is it public works that installs bike racks? Or the Parks Department? Call someone directly there to find out where they source bike racks and how much they cost. Having that info on hand will strengthen your argument. Bike racks are relatively inexpensive, probably in the $600 range. That’s peanuts for a public works project. If worse comes to worse, you could probably fundraise that much, while building awareness around town.

    • October 26, 2010 16:28

      Hey S@sha, thanks! This is really valuable information. I do know that there are public city council meetings to which one could go and say something during the open forum time. I think I will look into that and go armed with all the necessary info – as you suggested – regarding the cost of such a project. Thanks, again!

      • October 26, 2010 16:44

        Hey, also just so you know, landscape architects, landscape installers and the like get professional pricing on equipment like that, so if you don’t get anywhere with the gov’t, and decide to fundraise to install the bike rack yourself, try to find a local professional who will procure it for you at cost. A lot of landscape architects are into the idea of bike commuting, so it seems plausible. Also, if there are any bike racks in the city near public facilities, take photos of them in use (the fuller the better obviously) to use as a visual aid in your council presentation. Seeing that they are popular amenities will help your cause. Good luck!

  6. Mickey permalink
    October 26, 2010 20:55

    So interesting to catch up with this story, amazing how elected officials the world over appear so eager to ignore the electorate. For elections now I just find out who is in office and then vote for their competitor, only by kicking these fools out will they eventually realise that they are there to serve us, not the other way around. As for the coffee shop, don’t be so defeatist, boycott the place, stand outside with a placard or for meetings why not get take-outs from the other shop and go back to space on campus, that’ll smarten the profit hungry owner up :-)

    Take Care,

  7. steve permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:51

    Maybe that “other” coffee shop just needs some rain.

  8. Adam permalink
    October 27, 2010 13:40

    It seems to me that it should be the city’s decision to put up the bike rack not the property owner. Especially if it is going on the sidewalk which is public right of way. It shouldn’t matter whether it is a bike rack, park bench, street tree or street sign. It’s the “public” right of way. But if that is the City’s policy then you’re probably stuck with appealing to the owner.

    I would also look into going up the chain of command at the City, especially before showing up at a city council meeting. If you talked to the public works department or planning department I would follow up with the city manager or administrator.

    If you do go to a city council meeting come with ammunition. Pictures work well because you’re probably going to have a set time to get your point across.

    I hope this info is helpful. I work as a city planner for a small town in NC and we frequently have people requesting different things and we try to accommodate them but if we’re bound by an ordinance or policy, there’s not much we can do. That said, you can always ask to change the ordinance or policy.

    Good Luck.

  9. kateohkatie permalink
    October 27, 2010 18:45

    How frustrating! I agree with everyone else’s comments re: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

    Also, you used to be in StL, right? I’m always running into the same problem at the Kayak’s at the Northeast corner of the WUSTL campus – it’s so popular for meetings &c, but the only bike rack is small, out of sight, and isn’t even the coffee shop’s! (it was put up for the MetroLink station). So obnoxious.

  10. October 28, 2010 04:16

    How terrible that something we take for granted in our city is such a contentious issue in your area. Your persistence is admirable and I wish you the best of luck.

  11. DedHed permalink
    October 28, 2010 13:02

    You might contact Dave @ overthebars for some additional insight on how to progess.

    Here is our program.

    You can also contact Saris on pricing.

    +1 on Squeaky wheel

    Hmm, maybe it’s time to change careers and start a coffee shop!

  12. October 30, 2010 12:58

    I don’t think it is “silly” spending time on an issue you care about. And if you met with success the first time, think how wonderful it would be, and you could have put further time, talents, and energy into another cause you feel deeply about. GO S GO!

  13. Malú permalink
    December 7, 2010 01:40

    Dear friend

    I´ve followed your posts in this blog and in the academichic blog, cause I love your style and I miss you there. Honestly, I don´t like the new gal but just because she and the other two girls have a similar style, yours is different, young and refreshing.
    Anyway, I completely support your cause and I also think that is the only way to let the city officials know what we need after all it is the way to do democracy and have them working for us cause they serve us and not the other way around.
    You should see my city, it is the third most important one in Mexico and it is a chaos, difficult for those who love biking- and even though some advances have been made we really need more big changes.
    Your posts and the way you see life have inspired me. Now I think it is important to be part of the city community projects and speak up for important social causes but as you said let´s start small

    Sorry for my clumsy English

    Hugs and kisses and best wishes.


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