Biking is a safe and sustainable way to get around, especially as an alternative to public buses in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not everyone who owns a bike has all the tools necessary to maintain it. When my wheels went flat, I counted on UT to get me riding again.
UT’s Parking and Transportation Services offers tools to maintain your bike to members of the UT community. After I discovered this resource, I headed to a parking garage where Parking and Transportation Services stores bike pumps for community use, only to be told they had been “rounded up.” Plan B was to try the 24/7 pump on Speedway, but when I pulled up, I found that it was broken.
An exciting first day with my bike turned into a tiring walk home.
UT needs to support a positive biking experience on campus by ensuring that the tools they advertise function as they should. This starts with fixing the pumps at the 24/7 service stations and making additional pumps available in the parking garages in a safe manner compliant with pandemic protocols.
The Fixit stations and pumps aim to get bikers back on the road. While these stations are a great initiative by Parking and Transportation Services to help bikers, they have their flaws.
“We noticed that pumps were routinely found to be broken … (so) we removed the pumps while we determine a plan to more regularly monitor them for replacement and repair,” said Blanca Gamez, associate director of Parking and Transportation Services.
Eric Wang, a public health junior who works for the Orange Bike Project, UT’s community bike workshop, has noticed chronic problems and poor maintenance with the stations.
“The tools are rusted, and the pump head (on Speedway) has been missing since my freshman year,” Wang said. “It’s a great idea. It just needs to be maintained.”
The combination of dysfunctional stations and missing pumps from parking garages leaves bikers with no solution for flat tires. In addition to maintaining the existing stations, UT must also find a way to provide bike pumps at parking garages while protecting employees and bikers from COVID-19.
Currently, the bike pumps housed in parking garages have been removed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the health of our community is a strong priority, it doesn’t make sense to completely remove a resource the community relies on.
Risk of transmission via surface contamination on bike pumps can be addressed in the same way that we approach everything else: by the use of proper personal protective equipment and sanitation.
Requiring bikers to wear masks, self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms using the Protect Texas Together app and bring sanitation equipment such as wipes or gloves would greatly reduce the risk of spread via surface sharing.
Additionally, bikers could call the parking garage in advance to schedule pump use, further reducing face-to-face contact. A 15-minute buffer before and after an appointment offers enough time for staff to prepare the pump before a biker arrives and sanitize the pump after the biker leaves.
For the 24/7 pumps, theft is likely to blame for missing adapters. Storing adapters at a central location, such as the front desk of the William C. Powers Student Activity Center, and making them available for checkout in exchange for collateral would keep pumps safe and functional.
UT needs to implement solutions like this as it continues to work toward improving the biking experience on campus. By utilizing new processes and rules to maintain 24/7 pumps while keeping bikers and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, Parking and Transportation Services can help get bikers on the road again.
Lee is a civil engineering junior from Plano, Texas.