Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Biking Highline from Dubsea to Des Moines

As I write under the familiar cloud cover of Seattle, let me share a story from this weekend, where we were granted one last burst of beautiful summer weather. This post is about an afternoon spent touring Highline by bicycle, touching all five communities along the way and seeing our familiar district with new eyes.

White Center
My wife Shannon in front of Dubsea Coffee
My ride began with an iced coffee with my wife Shannon at Dubsea Coffee in the Greenbridge area of White Center. I was hoping to see owner Sibelle Nguyen, whose investment in the neighborhood has helped build community as well as delivering coffee goodness. Sibelle was gone for the day, but a steady stream of customers kept the shop hopping. After coffee, I set out to ride from the district's border with Seattle to the south border with Federal Way.

Two summers ago, I bought a bike at Bicycles West in Burien. Not having ridden for twenty years, I selected a basic model, mostly on the appearance of sturdiness. My bike isn't fast, but it gets me around. I enjoy biking more than being particularly good at. You'll notice I don't have the spandex bike shorts (thank goodness, right?) and I don't even carry a kit to repair flat tires (that's what we call foreshadowing, kids).

Posing with my bike in front of White Center Heights Elementary

Garden boxes at the new Seola Gardens
After passing White Center Heights Elementary, I cut over to 4th Avenue SW, a direct route with light traffic. Immediately, I started to notice things that I don't usually see. These included the striking rebuild of Park Lake Homes, now called Seola Gardens. Where stark looking post-war duplexes once stood a new community is emerging, vibrant in nature, reflecting the hopes of a new generation. I've seen them before from my car, but never noticed the planter boxes that fall below the grade of 4th Avenue. Gardens indeed.

Hazel Valley Elementary, from the corner of 4th and 132nd
Still on 4th Avenue, I crossed 116th Street and passed into Burien. Before long I was riding by Hazel Valley Elementary. On two wheels, I couldn't help but notice where there are bike lanes and where there are not. Although the trend has been to add more pedestrian friendly routes, it was interesting to me how often sidewalks disappear and reappear.

I was also much more aware of  youth walking and biking the streets of our district. Even on a non-school day I rarely rode more than a block or two without passing a school aged person on foot or on two wheels. As a community, we need to make sure there are safe routes for students to and from school. I'm glad folks like the Highline Healthy Communities Coalition are thinking about this, including many district folks such as Aimee Denver, Val Allen, and board member Bernie Dorsey.

The transit center in Burien adds a splash of art to 4th Ave.
Riding into the heart of Burien, I passed the brand new transit center that opened last month. I don't know what I expected it to look like, but it has exceeded my expectations, with its enormous, three-dimensional mountain scenes. A block later, I passed nearby the Highline High School Drill Team carwash. What resilient and hardworking students we have in these difficult financial times.

Normandy Park

After a short stretch on 1st Avenue, I cut over into a residential section of Normandy Park. My intended destination was Marvista, our only current school in Normandy Park.

The old Normandy Park Elementary

Since it was on the way, I elected to ride by the old Normandy Park Elementary site, which is now used as City Hall and as a community rec center. Before the airport expansion, before the bridges crossed Lake Washington, before the Boeing bust in the 1970s, Highline peaked at about 35,000 students, nearly double our current enrollment. When the population contracted, we had far too many schools for our 18,000 students, the level we've been at for more than a decade. There are former school sites across the district, and the old Normandy Park site seems particularly useful to its community.

My flat rear tire (boo!)
After taking a picture of the old Normandy Park site, I hopped back on my bike and heard the grating squeal of a deflated bike tire. I recognized the sound immediately and soon the air was coming out of my best laid plans, too. Without a bike repair kit, I was stranded and forced to call for a ride to a bike shop.


I got dropped off at Angle Lake Cyclery on International Boulevard in SeaTac and quickly was up and running again. Unfortunately, the afternoon was getting late and I didn't have time to ride by any schools in SeaTac. Folks in SeaTac, I'll be back soon! I've already been to Madrona, Hilltop, and ACE, and this week I'll be visiting Chinook.

Got that flat fixed in a jiffy!
I left the bike shop riding on Hwy. 99 to 216th. Even that little stretch of SeaTac helped me to reflect on the many different communities within Highline. Already I had been to White Center, Burien, Normandy Park, and now SeaTac. Each community has its different ethnic groups and histories. Students walk to school and to catch the bus in areas ranging from quiet side streets to here on International Boulevard. Our role is to educate them and to expect the most of every student. We should know these different experiences and routes to and from school, but our high expectations should be the common denominator for all students.

Des Moines

Pacific Middle School, with Mount Rainier High School in the background

While Highline has five communities, truthfully there are many more. My trek through Des Moines stayed mostly on Hwy. 99, detouring only for ride past Midway Elementary and Pacific Middle School on 24th. Later in the day, I got down to the blues festival along the waterfront, a different part of Des Moines. (I'll post on this later in the week.) When you think of Des Moines and the south end of our district, you may think of the Midway area, or the "downtown" Des Moines area, or the scenic area by the Masonic home, or the north hill. All of those are Highline, and our teachers have students from multiple geographies within their city in every classroom. It's one of the main things I like about public education.

Red = completed. Yellow = lost to flat tire.
I had hoped to get to Auntie Irenes as a sort of finish to my ride that started at Dubsea, but my wife and I had a rare date night on this Saturday and the babysitter was starting soon. After a quiet ride past Midway and Pacific, and a glimpse of Mt. Rainier High School in the distance, I cut up Kent-Des Moines Road and turned right onto Pacific Highway. I don't recommend this route on two wheels, and I stayed to the sidewalk as much as possible. Even then, I was aware of the challenges our students and families might face as I dodged sandwich board advertisements and the many driveways on my way to 252nd, our south border, eying Redondo Fred Meyer in the distance. 

Reflecting on 10 miles

This August, I asked all of our principals and district administrators to get out of their car and know their school community without the barriers of windows and car radios. It really does help gain a new perspective on the district.

Did I see the whole district on my ride? Not by a long shot. But after those 10 miles I biked, I feel like I'm a little closer to being in the shoes of our students as they travel the district.

1 comment:

  1. Kudos to you Dr. Spicciati for taking the time to get to know the communities the district serves in a new way! As a cyclist myself I can certainly agree that traveling by bicycle gives you a really different (usually richer) perspective of the places through which you move. And as an HSD parent (Cedarhurst) I look forward to hearing more from you on how we can build stronger connections between our schools and communities. I could certainly see walking and biking being a part of that effort!

    Best wishes!