NOTE: Updated at 3:45 p.m. Friday to include further comment from city of Fort Worth officials.
When Daniel Guido looks at a bicycle, he sees much more than two wheels, a seat and some handlebars.
He sees a way for families to get away from electronics and spend time outside. For neighbors to really get to know each other. A way to help children less fortunate than his.
So, when Guido, a 43-year-old engineer for a railroad company, recently took some trash to a local dropoff station and saw dozens of discarded bikes, he saw potential.
But Guido couldn’t pry the bikes away from the city of Fort Worth. City officials have their reasons, and they’re valid.
But for a lack of creative problem solving, it’s a missed chance to support the kind of neighborhood collaboration every city needs more of.
“Be one of the best cities and figure it out,” Guido said.
Guido and his north Fort Worth neighbors call themselves the Park Glen Bike Gang, or PeeGeeBeeGeez. They gather frequently to fix up bikes; you could easily mistake Guido’s garage for a repair shop. Scheduled rides bring out residents with refreshments.
Guido said he grew up as a free-range kid who traveled far from home on his bike, and he laments that he doesn’t see children today having the fun he did.
“It’s safe,” he said. “Give them bikes and cell phones so you can track them, and let them have adventures. Get your butt off the couch.”
Guido, who has four kids ranging in age from almost 2 to 14, said the bike gang began nearly three years ago and has grown through word of mouth and the Nextdoor app. Neighbors know to tag him if a bike has been discarded. Rides are organized and promoted through a Facebook group.
Neighbors and bike shops have donated parts. A storage company has provided a unit for what won’t fit in Guido’s garage.
When kids need a new chain or tire tube, they know where to go. Kids swap out bikes as they outgrow them. Some learn to make repairs themselves.
The gang has twice given away bikes at nearby apartment complexes, aiming to help lower-income families. And Guido hopes to help start bike gangs within the complexes. He estimates the gang has given away more than 300 bikes.
CITY AUCTIONS BIKES
Broken or outgrown bikes dropped off at city locations are auctioned off as a lot. Over the last three years, city officials say, the city has sold about 850 bikes a year for about $9,000 annually. The bikes are retooled for both for-profit sales and nonprofit donations.
It’s similar to how Fort Worth handles several types of waste. For instance, a contractor buys discarded tires for recycling. Goodwill collects clothing and electronics.
A city spokeswoman said that the state Constitution generally disallows donations of city property, though exceptions can be made. City officials also appear to have been concerned about legal liability. If a child were hurt on a bike donated by the city, a lawsuit could follow.
We want the city’s legal staff to protect taxpayers from obvious liability dangers. But it sure seems as if creating a waiver for parents to sign would do the trick.
And Guido notes that right next to the bikes in question was a huge pile of mulch, labeled free for the taking. What if someone slipped on some city-supplied mulch and was injured in a fall, he asks.
Another problem is that with hundreds of thousands of residents, the city would need a process to decide who gets donations.
“How do you donate to this person but not that person?” city spokeswoman Diane Covey said.
HELP WITH DONATIONS
To their credit, waste management officials tried to help in other ways, giving Guido suggestions about companies that might donate to his gang.
Guido also enlisted Alicia Ortiz, district director for City Council member Cary Moon.
“We were all in that same mindset of, this is a great grassroots effort being done, we’d love to be able to provide an opportunity, but our hands are tied,” she said. “It really was that liability.”
Ortize said that when she met Guido, she was struck by how much the bike gang drew together families and neighbors.
“At one point he mentioned, ‘You know, you build the community you want,’ ” she said.
Ortiz is working on support for other neighborhoods to launch their own gangs, with the Park Glen group’s help. Guido hopes to get Moon and perhaps Mayor Betsy Price, a bike enthusiast herself, out for one of the gang’s rides.
The discarded bikes are a missed opportunity, but not one that will deter him. The mission is too big for that.
“Know your neighbors, spend time with them,” Guido said. “Life will be richer.”