How did you get to school as a kid? I remember both walking and riding my bike, but also weathered a short season on the bus. The Department of Transportation reports that in 1969 about 50% of children rode or walked to school, while today barely 13% do. Parents’ fear, bike-unfriendly streets, and distance are reasons given for the decline. Drive, walk, or ride past schools as they start today, but be careful, because their driveways [originally designed for a handful of cars] are packed with impatient and speedy parents dropping their kids off. Riding and walking are healthy alternatives to the crush of cars, helping kids not only slow down but get in shape.
Michelle Hamilton, in the recent issue of Bicycling Magazine, writes that it is possible to get more kids out of cars and riding more between home and school. Here are a couple examples Hamilton highlights:
- Alpine Elementary School in Alpine, Utah received a $12,000 grant from Safe Routes to School to partner with their city, adding “crosswalks, school-zone signs and bike racks, and organized parent-led biking and walking groups – key components in easing parents’ fears.” The number of kids getting out of cars and onto bikes or their own two feet increased from 32 to 50 percent.
- Starkville, Mississippi is stripping bike lanes from all its sub-divisions to city schools.
- Taylor, Texas is in the process of completing a network of trails connecting city institutions for ease of riding and walking.
- The League of American Bicyclist’s (LAB) Bicycle Friendly Community program increased their program from 48 to 140 cities in the last five years.
- Michelle Obama is encouraging more kids to walk and ride to school through her Let’s Move initiative.
- Ray LaHood, U.S. secretary of transportation, is determined to integrate the needs of bicyclists into all federally funded road projects.
Here are six ways Hamilton suggests cities and individuals can get more kids riding to school:
- Make it a group effort – with city government, parents’ groups, neighborhood coalitions, and bike clubs working together.
- Champion the cause – it takes an individual to step up in any city and make it happen.
- Get help – explore available grants listed at SRTS’s guide [saferoutesinfo.org/guide/steps/index.cfm].
- Use incentive programs – gifts made available by schools for miles ridden or walked, potentially combining incentives with support of worthy causes.
- Involve kids – using students as safety officers, with parental or school supervision.
- Educate – by holding education classes for kids and parents. One school launched a “drive-safely” campaign and lowered the percentage of parents exceeding the 25-mph speed limit from 59 to 21 percent.
Changing mindsets and lifestyles takes lots of time, but cities across the country are discovering the joy of using their own power to get to and from school. Get out and ride, and take your kids along!