By Evan Brandt, The Mercury
POTTSTOWN >> When it comes to calling Pottstown a walkable/bikeable town, schools chief Stephen Rodriguez is walking the walk — or in this case, pedaling the pedal.
For the past several weeks, Rodriguez has been using a bicycle rather than a motor vehicle to get around town.
“The board had asked me to promote our walkable and bikeble schools in town and to call out one of Pottstown’s strengths, and so I decided to model the way,” said Rodriguez, who, true to form, arrived at Pottstown Middle School for an interview on a bicycle.
“It’s not only good for cutting down on pollution, which makes it good for the environment, but its good for me as I get some exercise during day, just like the ‘brain breaks’ exercises we have our kids take in class,” said Rodriguez.
The bike he is riding is owned by the school district “and any employee who wants to can use it,” said Rodriguez, adding he does not take it home.
But he does not require anyone else in the district to follow his example. Rather, he hopes they will choose to follow his example of their own accord.
“The curiosity factor is huge,” he said with a smile.
Rodriguez’s own curiosity has also resulted in some interesting discoveries, he said.
“So the first thing I discovered is how dangerous Charlotte Street is, so I stick to the side streets,” he said.
“Second, I discovered almost by accident, that in the borough getting somewhere by car is no faster than on a bike,” said “Rodriguez.
“In fact,” said John Armato, the district’s community relations director, who is nearly always present when the press is present, “there have been a couple of times when Stephen and I have left the administration building at the same time to go to a meeting and he beats me there on the bike.”
There are some exceptions. Getting to Rupert and Barth elementary schools — each on the two farther ends of the borough — took a little longer than expected the first time he tried it.
And finally, Rodriguez said riding on a bike has really opened his eyes to “the truly amazing architecture we have in Pottstown. It’s just stunning.”
Before undertaking this initiative, Rodriguez said it had been 20 years since he used on regularly, “but you know what they say, you never forget how to ride a bike.”
But he has had to learn some new things about biking — like which kind of cleaner gets bike grease off his khakis, and remembering to decide if can wear a suit that day if its going to be 90 degrees and he has to bike to an important meeting.
“It’s all part of the commitment,” he says of the extra considerations.
The middle school has the student population that uses the most bikes, Rodriguez said he has observed, although there are no official counts.
Armato observed that students and staff might bike more if Pottstown’s bike share program, Bike Pottstown, made several of the schools official stations for the program.
“Someone needs to get to another building, and they’re already signed up? They could just hop on a yellow bike,” said Armato in reference to Bike Pottstown’s all-yellow loaner bikes.
“We’ve already got some great partners with Mark Malizzi and Bishop Michael Anthony, whose Strong at Heart program gives away free bikes every year,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said being out on a bike, he notices how many other people are riding around town and said encouraging safe biking by students will help them take advantage of the bike paths in town, and the additional ones planned as part of the Walk/Bike Pottstown initiative now underway.
“I always wear my helmet, and when I was coming here and came down the West Street hill, I could have turned right and come up Franklin Street, but that would have been against traffic, so I went around to Evans Street so I could get here obeying the traffic laws,” he said.
As he spoke, a middle school student rode past on his bike and when asked if he wanted to have his photo taken with the superintendent to be in the newspaper, the young man replied “not really” and rode on.
Rodriguez laughed and said “well, obviously, I’ve got my work cut out for me.”