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What’s that Riverview pipe-thingy all about?

Dear Action Line: So many questions, so little time! Why doesn’t anybody in this town use their turn signals? Why don’t other cyclists wave back? Why ... but wait. Let’s “step” ahead to the current issue “stairing” us in the face: Every time I utilize the staircase between the east end of 29th Street and Riverview Elementary, I wonder WHAT THE HECK is the “pipe-thingy” (technical term) running along the middle of the steps? Was it some type of mini cog railway system delivering kiddos to and from school every day? I’ve asked many folks about this feature and most just “stair” at me. – Steppin’ It Up

It’s a long way up, especially with a bicycle. Action Line counts about 70 stairs. (Steppin’ It Up)

As is often the case, Action Line is stumped at where to start. All available puns have been stolen. But Action Line refuses to be derailed when facing such a difficult uphill climb.

Yeah, why don’t other cyclists wave? It didn’t used to be that way. But that was before everyone in Southwest Colorado owned a mountain bike and Strava’d each ride. Sorry, Steppin’, there’s just no time for waving or any other niceties when you’re going for a PR.

And turn signals? Do our smart cars not yet perform that function for us? It may be rude not to signal in 2022 – oops, 2023 – but, in a few years, self-driving vehicles will make this habit unnecessary and obsolete.

On to the pipe-thingy – or half-pipe-thingy – that long metal tray up what amounts to about seven flights’ worth of stairs. It’s unclear whether anyone has ever actually used it for its intended purpose. Let’s start off with what it isn’t, and we had some help from Karla Sluis, a former Mrs. Action Line who is now public information officer for Durango School District 9-R. As a good PR person does, Sluis took advantage of the situation by using some sly wheedling.

“The district is facing a bus driver shortage, so I like the idea of a nifty cog railway, rollerblade rope tow, or even putting saddles on our lazy urban deer. The district will go the extra mile to get kids to school safely,” Sluis said, before throwing in Wheedle No. 1: “Want to be a hero to school kids and working parents? Apply to be a bus driver today: durango.tedk12.com/hire/ViewJob.aspx?JobID=4032.”

Training deer to carry children to school is a great thought, plus it fits Durango’s rural heritage when kids really did ride four-legged animals to school.

What else isn’t it?

“It’s not a track for the Riverview Squirrel-Bobsledding Team,” said Ron Reed, the district’s manager of facilities and custodial services. (Of course not. The school’s Squirrel-Bobsledding Team, as Action Line assumed everyone knows, trains over at Chapman Hill on a track craftily hidden in the trees.)

Let’s end the suspense. The metal groove is called a C-channel, and, Reed said, the European design was created to make the stairwell easier for bike riders to navigate.

“When you’re going up the stairs with your bike, you don’t have to carry it,” Reed said. “You put the wheels in the groove and push it up.”

Action Line must confess having not gone out there to try this C-channel, also referred to as a bicycle stairway. Perhaps it’s easier than it appears to be. They’re apparently fairly common in the Netherlands, and are in use in San Francisco’s BART network.

Then came Wheedle No. 2, in which Reed “wheedled” Sluis to pass on the message that 9-R also has a custodian shortage. (Apply here: durango.tedk12.com/hire/ViewJob.aspx?JobID=4039.)

So now Sluis and Action Line have both been wheedled. A spokesperson at Mercy Hospital said both of us are expected to recover.

Sub mystery solved

When a reader asked about improvements to the City Reservoir on College Mesa, Action Line was stumped about rumors of a previous submarine mission there. (See Dec. 11 Action Line.)

But the reader and Action Line refused to be sunk, and using the key search term “robotics,” found an answer. Ryan N. Smith, then professor of physics and engineering at Fort Lewis College, used a robotic submersible after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill to help the city of Durango measure depths in the reservoir. (Quick side note: The reservoir is more formally called Jack Rogers Reservoir, named after the city’s former public works director after he retired in 2012. So that’s what we should call it.)

If anyone’s looking for him, Smith might still be around, but he left FLC a couple of years ago and is now vice president of technology solutions for Oxford, England-based Oxbotica. From Oxbotica’s website: “Now leading the cross-continent Oxbotica team, Ryan juggles time zone hopping, remote working, children and the small matter of delivering the vehicle of the future.”

Oxbotica, in a nutshell, “makes the software that’s going to change how the earth moves.” If you’re thinking “self-driving vehicles” (automated vehicles, or AVs), you’re on the right track.

Email questions and suggestions to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. As you’re crafting your question, keep in mind the effectiveness of wheedling.