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Ballard HS Student: Missing bike racks limit biking to school in Seattle

Chart showing a relationship between students of color in a school and that school being less likely to have adequate bike parking.
From SDOT’s 2018 School Bike Parking Inventory Analysis (PDF).

Lucas Salm-Rojo, a junior at Ballard High School, wrote an excellent op-ed for the Seattle Times this week arguing that Seattle Public Schools is making it harder for students to bike to school because not every school has adequate — or any — bike parking. And the problem is particularly apparent at at schools serving communities of color.

While locking a cheap kids’ bike to a random fence might not be a big deal in elementary school, the problem becomes a bigger deal once kids grow and start riding more theft-worthy adult bikes. A student’s bike is probably among their most valuable possessions, so you can understand them not wanting to lock it up to a random street sign outside school all day every day.

The full story is a must-read:

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When I was younger, I never thought too deeply about where I parked my bike. In elementary school I locked my bike to the chain-link fence that surrounded the building. Now that I am older and the bike I ride is more expensive than the 20-inch kids bike my dad bought off Craigslist, I am more invested in not having it get stolen. In a 2019 survey conducted by the Seattle Department of Transportation, 45% of respondents said that biking to school was not an option, citing a lack of bike racks and a worry of theft, both of which are issues I have encountered.

Seattle municipal code requires schools to provide four bike parking spots per classroom. However, a 2018 study by SDOT found that at least two-thirds of Seattle public schools don’t meet those requirements, and three schools — Franklin High School, Emerson Elementary and Van Asselt Elementary — didn’t just not meet the code, but had no bike racks at all. I have a friend who goes to Franklin and is forced to rent a bike locker at the nearby Mount Baker light-rail station.

This lack of bike racks is also concerning because it ties into the racial inequalities that are often found in any type of infrastructure in this city. SDOT’s study found that the number of bike racks a school has can be tied to the number of students from that school who live in a community of color. It found that the more diverse a school’s student body is, the fewer bike racks it has. This is concerning because students of color are already less likely to walk or bike to school than their white counterparts.

Read more…

Thank you, Lucas, for writing this excellent piece.

(Note: If you do not subscribe to the Seattle Times, local public library card holders can access the paper free through their library’s excellent collection of online resources: Seattle Public Library and King County Library. Here’s the direct SPL link to Salm-Rojo’s article.)

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3 responses to “Ballard HS Student: Missing bike racks limit biking to school in Seattle”

  1. Jessi

    This is a great Op Ed Lucas. I hope the school district listens and follows the law on this. I’ll so my part to try to get them to listen.

    Nice Library shout out Tom. I love that service.

  2. Don Brubeck

    Excellent, Lucas. Meanwhile, the school district continues to request and the City continues to grant departures from the code for significantly less than required minimum bike parking for major school rebuilds.

  3. Alison Van Gorp

    Thanks for sharing this excellent Op-Ed!! While my kids’ schools have all had at least one bike rack, they have frequently been substandard. All the SPS racks I’ve encountered have poor designs making it difficult to position and lock a bike with a modern theft-resistant U-lock, especially on a smaller kids bike. One rack flooded every time it rained, making it very difficult to lock your bike without wading into 4-6″ of standing water. Despite, the single, small rack was always crowded since several kids did bike to school regularly when the weather was nice. So there’s tons of room for improvement and I think it would make a huge difference in encouraging kids to bike to school. I’d also point out that in terms of infrastructure projects, bike racks really aren’t that expensive! SDOT has done tons of excellent work on implementing ADA and Safe Routes improvements in my South Seattle neighborhood, including new curb bump outs, curb ramps, cross walks and speed bumps. I’m sure these came with fairly hefty price tags. In comparison, the cost of adding a few new modern bike racks at every school is modest. I know SPS continues to fight the bike parking code requirement… I hope the City sticks to their guns and requires SPS to comply. I also hope that the City, State and SPS can figure out a way to fund the very much needed improvements/upgrades to bike racks at existing schools. These kinds of small changes can go a long way in transforming our transportation system, improving safety and reducing climate emissions.

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