Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Cycling Soapbox: Bike to School!

The school year is upon us here in the United States, and the morning sidewalks and streets are full of children walking, biking, and riding the bus to school.

Whoa... wait a minute... did you say biking? A rising trend in this country is schools BANNING kids from riding their bikes to school.

The reason for this is... yes, you guessed it: liability over students' safety on the roads, especially all those roads around the schools. And a major reason for the problem is that more and more kids are being driven to school by parents instead of walking or riding themselves.

The reason for a lot of this can be laid at the feet of our media. Lenore Skenazy, of the blog Free Range Kids, points out that streets are a lot safer now than when we were kids. She likes to point out that, statistically, you'd have to leave your child out alone for 750,000 years if you wanted to ensure that they got kidnapped. But our media has hyped up our fear of pedophiles and kidnappers to such an extent that many parents don't dream of letting their kids get away with the same sorts of freedoms that we had as kids. Hence the constant need to drive kids to school. And the scary thing is that the odds of getting into a car accident in a year are close to 1 in 20,000. Compare that with the risk of a child being kidnapped: 1 in 300,000.

Combine that with the horrid cheap carbohydrate-rich diets that are foisted upon us and it's no wonder there's an obesity epidemic. The results of this hyper-paranoia and poor diet is that our kids are fat, can't think for themselves, and can't pay attention in school.

Now, the topic here is cycling to school, specifically. We're fortunate in our neighborhood that we have a lot of kids who bike to school. The newly-renovated school down the street has two large bike racks for kids to lock their bikes up during the day, and as I tweeted about a couple weeks ago, I was heartened to see six kids riding to school before I even got down to the first main thoroughfare. And I haven't heard of any schools in the Columbus area that have bans in place for riding (if you know of any, let us know in the comments).

But that doesn't mean that there aren't horribly backward school systems in other parts of the country where bikes aren't allowed. Many of them go so far as to tell parents that THEY can't ride their kids to school on a bike, either in a trailer or in a bike seat. And the reason is that the schools don't think it's safe to ride on the streets around the schools, because of the traffic.

This thinking is, of course, entirely backward. Instead of banning the kids from riding, getting exercise and fresh air, they should be the BIGGEST advocates in the world for safe roads. They should be telling local planners to lower speed limits around the schools 24/7, and put in permanent traffic-calming measures like rumble strips and speed bumps. They should be lobbying the police to enforce traffic laws on the various approaches to the schools. They should be encouraging parents to let their kids ride. All they are doing by banning bikes is making certain that parents make the problem worse by driving their kids to school more often!

And the kids get to school, full of carb-loaded breakfasts and with no exercise to settle them down a bit, and then the teachers wonder why their kids are fat and more apt to suffer from hyperactivity and the like.

And another reason that fewer kids ride to school - the schools are put in some of the worst places now. Last weekend, my family was driving through Canal Winchester when we passed two elementary schools right next to one another on a busy road. Two separate elementary schools, right next door to one another. Why weren't these schools located in neighborhoods where people could walk or ride to them? Why were they out on a busy road? Why would you purposefully create a situation for your city's kids where they were forced to be bussed or driven by your parents? This is an example of HORRIBLE city planning and indicative of more problems such as sprawl.

I recommend that people take a look at some of the stories that are floating around the internet about this topic. It's insane to think that our school systems would be advocating making our kids fatter and less healthy.

Also, take a look at the website for the National Center for Safe Routes to School. It's got lots of information on how to help kids stay safe on the way to school and how to fight for your kids' right to ride to school if they want.

People, not speed.

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