Archive for September, 2014

Volunteering as a Bike Counter

Posted by Doug Shidell, September 9th , 2014.

“It’s not much,” she said as she placed 26 cents on my count sheet. I looked up, startled.
“No! No!” I blurted out. “That’s not why I’m here. I’m a volunteer, counting pedestrians and bicyclists.” I waved my count sheet toward her, babbled something about counting her as she crossed the bridge, and put the money back in her hand. She was a high school kid. This was a popular panhandling corner. My babbling protestations probably convinced her that I needed both the money and a good social worker, but she took the change and walked away, with one quick glance back toward me.

This was my second year as a volunteer for the annual Minneapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Count. I expected it to be mildly boring since I wasn’t in a hot spot for cyclists, but this was already the second encounter. Moments earlier a young woman on a bike asked if I had “air,” meaning a pump to inflate her slowly leaking front tire. I did, but asked that she watch for bicyclists and pedestrians while I worked on the bike. “Are you doing this as some sort of experiment?” She asked.

After the donation incident I watched a cyclist as he approached the “screen line,” the invisible line across the road where the count takes place. He crossed the line. I made a tick mark on the count sheet. Then he made an abrupt U-turn in the middle of the bridge, crossed the screen line again (I made another tick- those are the rules), hopped his bike over the curb and stopped about two feet from my lawn chair. “Don’t’ tell my boss I did that.” He said.

I had no idea who this guy was, making it unlikely that I would tell his boss about a bicycle U-turn in the middle of a bridge. And I couldn’t imagine why his boss would care, but I promised I wouldn’t tell. The whole incident became clear when he explained that he was following up on bike/ped counters. Did I need anything? Any questions? Would I like a granola bar? I suppose if you are an employee of the city, working under the bicycle coordinator, you would want your boss to believe that you are a model urban bike rider.

That should have been enough for any two hour stretch, but an older gentleman crossed the street with a purposeful gait, came up close and said “Are you Doug?” It turns out that we worked together at a local bike shop 30 years ago, and hadn’t seen each other since. He recognized me as he was driving by and stopped to find out what I was doing on this popular panhandling corner. I assured him that I didn’t need money and had already turned down a generous contribution of 26 cents.

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