Earlier last fall, while Colin Harris and I were at Farnsworth Aerospace, a middle school on the east side of St. Paul, as part of the Minnesota Statewide Safe Routes to School planning assistance project, one of the teachers showed me a fleet of 29 bicycles in the school’s basement that had been left in disrepair and were gathering dust. The kids don’t have an active PTO, there are no nearby bike shops, and certainly not all kids have access to safe bikes. From the recommendation of my office mates and Steve Durrant, we sent the word out to a number of people we thought would like to be involved with helping to repair these bikes.
When I first had the idea, a school staff member thanked me and said, “Man, East Side schools never get the attention that some of the other St. Paul Public Schools get.” Long story short, I was able to get a professional mechanic from Freewheel Bike to come by and help to make sure repairs were done safely and volunteers from the neighborhood to meet on March 2 to fix up these bikes. I also secured a parts donation from Quality Bicycle Products, a local distributor of bicycle parts. The story ended up making the local news and got a shout out on Twitter from St. Paul Public Schools, which is great because it brings more awareness to people who may not otherwise know about Safe Routes to School efforts.
Unfortunately, we only got about a third of the bikes in tip top shape, according to the mechanic (who was very conservative in giving the bikes a safety approval — a good thing!). I was kind of bummed about that until he asked if I would be willing to come back with him in late March some evening to really crank them out. I was thrilled when he offered even more of his time. Both he and I want to see it through to the end, and I couldn’t do it without him. The plan is for him and I to work the evening of March 23 on the remaining bikes. Once finished, the leftover donated bicycle parts will stay at the school, and the fleet will be shared by Farnsworth and the nearby Johnson High School for gym class and group rides.
It was really important that we involved the kids in the day. Many teachers told me that they had never seen the kids so excited. Farnsworth Middle is a STEM school, so the kids that came down to help from a robotics class already had some interest in mechanics. Because no volunteers were pros, having a mechanic there to help out with questions and most importantly, with the final safety check, was critical. The teacher at school who I have been most in contact with will be the “owner” of the bikes. She is the athletic director and health teacher. It will be very important for some one on site to be responsible for them. I also am proud that we worked with a school in a neighborhood of primarily minorities.
A special thank you to Tony Desnick, Colin Harris, Rose Ryan, and Steve Durrant for making this possible!
By Jimmy Shoemaker, Planner, Alta Planning + Design