FORT WORTH — It could be expected that a City Council decision to spend about $50,000 on showers for City Hall employees who ride their bicycles to work or jog at lunchtime might raise a few hackles in this very conservative city.
That it didn’t raise much of a public clamor at the time of the decision early last month was perhaps a hopeful sign of changing attitudes as Fort Worth pushes ahead with its comprehensive bike transportation plan and goal to make the city a “bicycle-friendly community” in the eyes of the League of American Bicyclists by 2015.
That news of the City Hall showers seemed to slip under the radar, even though at least two local TV stations reported on the plan Dec. 6, was indicated by the opening of Lieber’s piece: “A Fort Worth City Hall employee tipped The Watchdog that the city is spending almost $50,000 to build five showers so city workers can clean up after biking to work or exercising at lunchtime.”
Lieber outlined a pretty good case, in my view, for City Hall providing five showers for its bike commuters, including quotes from Mayor Betsy Price, an avid cyclist, and City Councilman Joel Burns, whose District 9 includes downtown.
“We all need to focus on health and wellness,” said Price, a Republican. “This is a small step to help move that forward.”
Added Burns: “I had a number of employees say repeatedly they wish they had this type of facility. It’s a customer service issue. … Part of my support for this is we, as an employer, ask our employees to be healthy because we are self-insured. … It’s not an opulent health club. We’re just providing the means to clean up and have a professional appearance after heeding our request [to exercise] and help us reduce the city’s healthcare cost.”
One of the sillier online comments in response to Lieber’s piece: “Those employees that want to be healthy — give ’em an outdoor job with the parks department. No shortage of physical labor there. And if you want to shower, get the maintenance guys to leave a hose hooked up outside city hall. Either that or gather up all the folks who wanted the shower and ask them, ‘Which two of you want to be fired so we can pay for this silly idea?’”
Another critic asked: “Would McDonalds or Best Buy or any profit making organization do this? Of course not. There are health spas everywhere. Use one of them. Don’t waste my tax money.”
I was pleased to note that one of my friends and fellow cyclists responded to that remark: “Well, yeah, actually my employer did exactly that … I sometimes ride my bicycle to work, 17 miles each way, and my employer provides showers.”
I had a similar experience. Before I retired from the Star-Telegram in June 2008, when I was training for various long-distance cycling events that culminated in a ride across the United States in the fall of 2009, I rode my bike to work about three times a week.
When I asked about the possibility of shower facilities, the powers-that-be afforded me access to a shower and lockers in the maintenance department. That arrangement worked out fine, but I suggested that any future renovations at Star-Telegram facilities include a few showers for bike commuters.
As a cyclist and Fort Worth homeowner, who this very day paid a significant chunk of tax money for city and county services, including for schools and hospitals, and, presumably, a few pennies for those showers at City Hall, I applaud the City Council for trying to improve the lot of cyclists and for providing those shower facilities. I hope that other employers follow that example and do the same.