Sunday, July 21, 2019

Parkways tourism: an eye-opening perspective

I went to Sunday Parkways today as a tourist.

I had signed up to be a rolling wrench; then a family scheduling matter preempted my volunteering so I instead joined my sister and other family members for a leisurely ride around a greatly-shortened Outer Northeast loop.

Being a tourist was nice. I didn't have to worry about anything and could just ride at a mellow pace, enjoying the event through the lens of my great-niece and -nephew, ages 9 and 7 respectively. This meant less riding and more fun exploring and playing in the parks along the route, but I didn't mind.

What I did learn, both by observation and from friends who'd volunteered, was that the overall rate of volunteers had sunk to new lows with this year and at this event especially. This was a confirmation of a hunch I'd nurtured over two years, that PBOT was having trouble recruiting volunteers, especially to be Intersection Superheroes -- those who sit at intersections and assist/guide car drivers across the closed streets of the Parkways route. There were noticeably fewer people staffing the intersections, and some of those weren't really doing their jobs. When a driver approaches an intersection s/he must be escorted across the route at a walking speed. Today, I saw over a dozen drivers helping themselves to move barriers and drive along the route to get where they wanted to go, sometimes driving along as far as two or three blocks before turning off the route again.

I'm pretty sure this is not what PBOT had in mind.

I admit that, the first two times, I had half a thought of getting off my bike and helping direct traffic when the volunteers were just sitting there. A closer look revealed that one volunteer was busy tabling for a cause to notice the car was there; and the other volunteer was sitting next to a walker so she clearly would've been challenged to help direct traffic. I let go of my momentary guilt and rode on, enjoying myself for the rest of the ride.

But it confirmed my suspicions that Parkways is really suffering from a lack of funding for professional staffing (flaggers and police, particularly) and a growing inability to recruit volunteers for each event. This route, formerly seven miles, was shortened to just over four -- mostly likely to avoid having to staff more major intersections with professionals now unavailable.

Honestly, I was glad not to have to volunteer today. But I also wonder about the future of Sunday Parkways when the signs are so clear that its organization isn't keep pace with the city's growth, or with the changes that will be needed to keep it viable and safe.

I haven't signed up to volunteer for the remaining two Parkways. I'm busy in August, and the September event is the day after Selichot and a week before Rosh Hashanah.
Plus, I've now volunteered for four shifts at parkways and feel I've done my bit for the season. And I'm not really up for being expected to work as a traffic cop when that's not what I signed up for.

I hope PBOT can get it together, but I worry that what's needed is too far beyond them.

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