In the community, Local government

Vale youth makes democracy work to pave the way for new bike racks

VALE – Ben Fife knows how to make government work for its citizens.
The Vale 10-year-old recently noticed as he rode his bike around town there were no bike racks.
That was a problem.
Especially since he spends a lot of time behind the handlebars of his Crossfire BCA bike.
After he brought the issue to the attention of his mom, Brittany, she encouraged her son to get involved and help make a change.
“Mom said I should write a letter to the city,” said Ben.
So, Ben sat down and put together a short email to Todd Fuller, Vale city manager; Mayor Tom Vialpando, and members of the Vale City Council. The email was polite and to the point:
“To Whom it May Concern,
“I’ve recently noticed that there are not very many places in our city with bike racks.  I believe that Vale could benefit from bike racks.  Here are three reasons why I think Vale needs more bike racks.
“One reason is exercise, kids spend a lot of time playing video games and not getting out of the house.  I think that if there were more bike racks kids would want to ride their bikes and play outside. 
“My second reason is people want their bikes to be safe.  In Vale people already have issues with others stealing bikes from their yards.  A bike laying on the sidewalk is even easier to steal, but if there were bike racks people would have a place to lock up their bikes. 
“Another reason is gas prices.  As you may know gas prices have been going up. People will most likely look for other ways to get around. Some of those people might want to ride bikes, but there’s nowhere to lock their bikes up.
“Thank you for reading this letter. I hope this note makes a difference.”
Vialpando said when he read the email he was excited.
“I was like, great! We like to see young kids get involved,” said Vialpando.
Ben received a reply from Fuller inviting him to attend the Vale Parks and Recreation Committee meeting in early June.
Before the meeting, Ben hopped on his bike and scouted around town to find places – such as in front of the library – where bike racks would be a good fit.
At the parks and recreation meeting, he outlined his concerns and his justification for bike racks.
“A bunch of us were impressed,” said Vialpando.
The city then decided to use economic development money to buy eight bike racks. The racks arrived at city hall recently.
“At our next parks and rec, I think the plan is to take a tour around town and see where we want the bike racks,” said Fuller.
Ben said he was “50/50” on whether his request would create change.
“I think it will really help our community,” he said. “Before, when I rode my bike, I’d have to find a pole or something to lock it up.”
Ben was surprised his idea gained traction so fast.
“I didn’t think it would be this easy,” he said.
Brittany Fife was proud of her son and said there is a clear lesson in Ben’s advocacy.
“No matter what age you are, you can make a difference,” she said.
Fuller said Ben’s email and request is a perfect example of how the relationship between citizens and government should work.
“We don’t normally get kids that age that will just come in and say this is what the city needs and why we need it. I thought it was pretty cool,” said Fuller.
Vialpando said Ben’s dedication to spark change was refreshing.
“Any time you have somebody thinking like that, especially the younger generation, and to see the idea actually come to fruition is awesome,” said Vialpando.

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