The lost tourists are easy to spot.
“They’re usually standing with their phones out looking confused,” says safety ambassador Janet Trares.
Helping disoriented visitors (and anyone else with a question about downtown) is one of Trares’ many duties during afternoon bike patrols through downtown. She is part of DSA’s downtown ambassador team, funded by Metropolitan Improvement District ratepayers.
She talks with 20-50 people each day, assisting with directions, responding to calls from business owners, coordinating with her colleagues on the Outreach and Clean Teams, and occasionally providing information to law enforcement.
“It’s kind of like event staffing on a bike,” she says.
That is, a mobile event with hills and traffic. Since they’re navigating the city by bicycle, safety ambassadors must demonstrate their skills on two wheels before saddling up. Multiple track stands – balancing without moving – are required, along with an endurance test that includes climbing steep Virginia Street in Belltown.
Just as important as her riding ability is Trares’s skill interacting with the public on busy downtown streets. It helps that she plays drums in a cover band, so she’s no stranger to events and crowds. Still though, working as an ambassador provides good lessons in interacting with people, especially those in distress.
Says Trares, “I’ve gotten a lot better at reading body language, what to look for, what questions will be asked if I end up needing to talk to the police.”
Occasionally, someone will raise their voice or argue, but she doesn’t take it personally or push back.
Says Trares, “Sometimes people just want to yell and vent.”
Her radio chirps “402,” meaning a business needs assistance. Trares makes her way to a nearby hotel and stops to chat with a man lying outside the entry.
“Hi there, sir. Are you ok?” she asks. “Someone was very concerned.”
She explains the business owner’s worry and the man decides to move along. She makes sure he doesn’t forget his hat.
If Trares needs to speak with someone sleeping on the sidewalk or possibly under the influence, she always begins the conversation cordially.
“If we treat them with respect, they recognize that,” Trares says. Her favorite part of the job is riding in the spring and fall, when the air is crisp but dry. It makes her want to bake something. And the appreciation people express after being helped by an ambassador is gratifying.
“It’s nice to get compliments, “Trares says. “People from out of town say ‘I wish we had you in our city,’”