By Tim Schaefer
Imagine you’re an elementary or middle school kid, it’s the end of the school day, you go out to the bike rack and discover your bike has been stolen. What a traumatic experience!
Sadly, this is exactly what happened in late fall 2021, at the Riverside school located in the community of Bridgeland in Calgary. In the middle of the school day, thieves broke into the bike cage located in a seemingly highly visible location and stole a bike. I was keen to see my kids continue riding to school and wanted other kids to realize the benefits too.
I knew a more secure solution was needed because the school’s old wheel bender rack was not providing a secure option. After about 10 months of working hard, I was successful in having a Youth En Route (YER) bike rack built at Riverside School.
Here are some tips from my experience so you can make it happen much faster at your kids’ school.
1: School Board has No Funding. My first mistake was attempting to get the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to upgrade the bike parking. This was futile. The CBE has effectively zero budget for anything outside of the scope of teaching. You will need to fundraise for this. See tip 6 below for more details.
2: YER Rack offers the Best Value. A few months into the process I discovered Youth En Route and their innovative bike rack. The YER design takes the 1950’s era wheel bender rack found at many schools and then inexpensively upgrades them to allow bikes to be securely locked. Many people have asked me why not go with something new like staple shaped racks which are considered best suited for all types of bikes. The main reason is cost. Converting wheel bender racks to the YER design is significantly cheaper than new staple racks! Being a less expensive option made it feasible as I was going to need to fundraise to make this happen. The YER rack also works perfectly for +95% of bikes ridden by Elementary and Middle School aged kids in Calgary. For the few bikes that don’t fit perfectly, it still provides a secure option, just not as ideal as staple racks.
3: Engage your School’s Parent Society and School Council. Shortly after discovering the YER rack design, I also figured out the path forward was through the school’s Parent Society and School Council. These groups typically meet once a month, and they prefer to make decisions in their meetings. That means you’ll need to engage them to make things happen. Fortunately, after attending my first meeting I was able to gain support from this parent group to organize a Bike Cage Subcommittee to implement the YER rack.
4: Work with School Board’s Facilities Dept. With the help of the parents and student volunteers on the Bike Cage Subcommittee we sought out quotes from local welding companies to have the racks converted. This proved to be a dead end as only CBE approved suppliers could be used on CBE owned assets. We also discovered the CBE had its own welding shop that could do the work for a lower fee as they would only seek to cover costs and no profit.
5: Engage the School Principal. To get the CBE welding shop working on this project, we had to work through our School Principal as they are the single point of contact for managing the school’s facilities. Your principal can be a great resource to help get this work going. When we had our Principal inquire with CBE Facilities it took about a month to coordinate and in May 2022 we received a quote and commitment to complete the YER bike rack conversion over the summer.
6: Have a Timely Fundraising plan. It was great news knowing we could have the bike rack upgraded while the kids were on summer break… until we found out our Parent Society and School Council was unwilling to commit to the project until all fundraising had been completed. With only four short weeks left in the school year, we were about to miss the opportunity to complete the work over the summer months. In late May 2022 the Bike Cage Committee worked hard on quick turn fund raising efforts and successfully raised the $2,000 we needed to adapt two of the school’s old bike racks.
In September 2022, the students at Riverside School had two YER racks installed and they are now able to safely secure and enjoy the benefits of using active transportation to and from school. Currrently, capacity is limited to about 12-14 bikes per rack. When set up to allow parking on both sides of the rack, these adapted racks can hold 24-26 bikes each. There are ambitions to create a larger bike cage so more bikes can be parked with the existing racks.
Best of luck and have fun on your Youth En Route bike rack conversion!
Tim Schaefer is a lifelong cyclist and an advocate for creating safe and secure places for kids on bikes. He is also an engineer and a parent of Riverside school. You can find him on Twitter @tinybeaches.