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« Drinking the Pharmstrong Koolade | Main | For the love of cycling »
Friday
Oct122012

Safe Routes to School

In less than a month this blog will be seven years old; apart from a six month break I took four years ago in 2008, I have written here at least once a week, often twice.

When I look back over this relatively short period, “Cycling,” that is to say the lot of the cyclist has improved greatly; this is happening globally, Even here in the US, a country seemingly entrenched in a “Car Culture,” the bicycle is slowly but surely gaining acceptance.

The type of thing I find encouraging are movements like the “Safe Routes to School” organization. I had heard of Safe Routes but knew little about it, until last week when I received an email from Carolyn Battaglia who works for the South Carolina Safe Routes to school.

I was invited to a meeting at a local school. The school with 1,200 students has a huge traffic issue every day as parents drop off and pick up their kids.

The school was encouraged when they participated in the International Walk and Bike to School Day, on October 1st. They wanted to extend this idea and have a Walk and Bike to School Day every month. The meeting was called to study the feasibility.

One of the ideas put forward was for the parents to drop the children off at a Church parking lot less than a mile away, and have the kids walk or bike the rest of the way as a group with adult escorts.

The goal is to encourage groups of children who live within a reasonable distance to meet at certain places then walk or bike to school with adult supervision and protection, and to do it on a daily basis.

The reason so many parents choose to drive their kids to school is because the school busses take a disproportionate amount of time for what is often a relatively short trip.

As well as being beneficial as a physical exercise, it would go a long way to cut down the congestion and air pollution at the school. What a great idea; a win for everyone.

What I didn’t know is that the Safe Routes to School is part of the South Carolina Department of Transport. This is wonderful news, because it means that when meetings like this are held, recommendations by Safe Routes org. for things like sidewalks and bike lanes go straight to the people who have the power to make it happen.

In fact there was a SCDOT engineer at the meeting taking notes. He made it clear that sidewalks needed around the school would only happen if money was available. But at least as money became available a work order would already be in place.

I would urge all those interested in local bike advocacy to look into Safe Routes to School in your state. Infrastructure improvements made for the benefit of schools and children, like sidewalks and bike lanes, are of benefit to all pedestrians and cyclists who live in the area.

And as I have said before; the day that it is safe for a child in the US to ride their bike to school, will be the time when our roads will be safer for everyone. Pedestrians, cyclists, and yes even car drivers.

 

                       

Reader Comments (8)

Thank you for the informative post. I live in SC (Greenville) and my kids can not walk/ride to school even though we are only ~1/3 mile away. The road is too busy and there are no sidewalks. Of course much of the traffic is due to parents droppng their kids off at the school. I will look into the organization.

October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJMagee

Amazed you have suburban roads with no sidewalk!

October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Morris

Andy,
Pretty normal in the US, especially on the East Coast where streets have been in place since the 1950s and before. Designed for cars, no one was expected to walk anywhere.
If every school had a mile of sidewalks in every direction, it would allow a large amount of students to walk to school, and cut back on a huge amount of traffic.
Dave

October 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I graduated high school in 1979 and we had kids late - so they're currently 13 and 8 years old. Totally different era comparing my school experience and my kid's current set up. Many more kids walked to school in my era and hardly any were dropped off by parents. It was either walk or take the school bus.

When my kids started elementary school - short walk from our house - so they walked, I was shocked and amused at the SUV/Mini Van parade dropping kids off every morning. Traffic cones set up to keep the parade in route, school volunteers opening car doors to keep things moving. Hilarious and saddening. Bikes are also not allowed on school property. I used to see this one Huffy BMX bike parked at edge of school property, helmet hanging off the handlebars. That kid was my hero.

I see a few reasons for this change in culture. One is people have just become lazier and its now "normal" to drive your kid a few hundred yards to school - which I've witnessed a few zillion times now. The other is the (alleged) danger factor from strangers, etc - which I don't fully buy.

One factor I do buy - is the increase in traffic and associated risk. The elementary school mentioned is close to our house with quiet suburban roads, no excuse not to walk. My son started junior high this year, a few miles from the house. Being a junior racer, he could easily ride there - but I won't let him - due to some sketchy roads involved. So the school bus it is.

Without a doubt, more sidewalks and bike paths would get more kids to school under their own power. I'd hope so anyway...

October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

I've been teaching Jr High and Elementary School for almost fifteen years and the number of students who bicycle to school has been steadily increasing.

A few years ago California, facing budget cuts, shut down most of their school bus programs. The result was that parents began driving their kids to school. Fortunately California's "physical fitness" attitude began to attract more and more students to ride bicycles - no longer being seen as "geeks."

In the Bay Area we've seen a steady increase in bicycle traffic of all kind - working adults, students, even teachers (I bicycle to school daily - rain or shine). Even so with huge employers like Google and Facebook our traffic problems are awful - unless you choose to ride your bicycle. In that case your biggest problem is dealing with drivers who become angry as you gently pedal past them while they sit, fuming, burning gas, and dealing with incoming text messages . . . in huge traffic jams.

October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

In my family's 'hood, local and school officials "promote" green initiatives but not Safe Route concepts. Too busy removing school playgrounds for larger parking lots and to make room for the long line of SUVs. School officials open car doors to speed up the process. Plenty of sidewalks and safe streets but the kids and their parents are too lazy to change.

It doesn't help when parents buy their kids new bikes w/o showing them how to properly handle these vehicles - creates negative PR. One kid last year on a hill couldn't stop and got hit by a Metro-bus - he's OK and doing well at middle school XC.

Safer crossing zones at larger intersections, well located- weather protected bike racks and educating elementary students on road rules for pedestrians and cyclists would help.

October 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I'm reminded of that old story of teaching a man to fish , you have fed him for life. Teaching effective cycling might just be a handy life skill for children .What a wonderful world it would be, nice blog .Thanks

October 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlee

I have since moved, but I spent 30+ years in Portland Or area, mostly on the west side in the Beaverton area. What amazes me is the all the bike lanes available except around schools, either elementary, secondary or high schools. During my time off from work (lay-offs) I plotted 10, 15, 20 25 and 30 mile routes around my house that I rode to deal with the stress. I would come near a school and loose the bike lane, and more often than not, the shoulder, riding on the white line on right side of the 12 foot lane. Makes the phrase, " For our children" a empty statement.

October 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

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