Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kids Riding Bikes to School

May, as we know, is Bike Month.  There seem to be loads of bikey news out there and one topic, in particular, has interested the Full Hands Family tremendously.  Bicycling magazine recently-published article, Why Johnny Can't Ride and the NPR follow-up interview with the author, David Darlington, look at the sharp decrease of children walking and biking to school AND some school policies that actually prohibit kids from riding to school on their bikes.

One cannot help but shudder to see these statistics from Darlington's article:

"According to its surveys, in 2009 only 13 percent of all children walked or rode to school, whereas in 1969 nearly half (48 percent) did. The remoteness of the new schools is not the only cause: Among students who lived within one mile of school 43 years ago, 88 percent walked or bicycled, while today only 38 percent do."

It made me reflect on my childhood experiences and to look at what's happening with my boys.  Due to my father's job, my family moved numerous times throughout my elementary and high school years.  I lived in multiple towns in NJ, one suburb of Pittsburgh, PA, and in a Los Angeles suburban town for a lone school year.  And you know what? I cannot remember my parents driving me to school.  Ever. I suspect that it happened a few times, but we walked or took the school bus, depending how far away from school we lived. Given my numerous siblings, there was always someone to walk with and I can remember meeting up regularly with neighbors, becoming part of these packs going to and from school together. When we got home, we would hop on bikes and ride all around the neighborhoods, generally unsupervised, but always making sure to be home for dinner (you had to know my mother).

My older fellows started preschool when we were living on a school campus in rural Maine. In order to get to preschool, driving was the only option.  Moving to New Haven was a big change on many fronts and the twins spent their last year of preschool at a school within walking distance of our apartment.  And we did-- we walked, and sometimes scootered, always pushing their two-year-old brother in a great hand-me-down jog stroller that had survived multiple cousins.  The route took us up a big hill and at times, there were complaints, but we always seemed to get there.  To distract the boys from complaining, P began a never-ending story of a cheeky squirrel that survived many adventures.  When our little guy started at this same preschool the following year, P became the primary drop-off person and he often braved the steep hill by bike, F strapped in a Topeak childseat on the back of the 1968 Rudge Roadster.

This, of course, was the year that we discovered cargo bikes.  It took us until February before ours arrived so the older fellas and I went to school by car those first six months.  But finally, finally -- with the arrival of our bakfiets, we became a bike-commuting family.  And that was that.  But not really.  Because then our boys grew older and heavier. And we moved across town, doubling the distance of our commute. And this year, transportation to school has changed again. Our older guys now take a yellow school bus and the little one and I ride together.  The school bus arrival time has forced our family to wake up a full half hour earlier each day but my twins love the experience of it-- perhaps, as my husband and I surmise, it is because it is the only time of their days that they are really unsupervised.  Yup.  

My boys ride for recreation.  We ride them on cargo bikes for transportation. And now we are trying to make the shift so that they, too, can ride themselves more and more for transportation.  Wednesday, May 9, will be a first as we participate in the inaugural National Bike to School Day and S and C will ride the four miles on their own bikes.  It looks like we may be joined by a few other folks, which is great, but we expect it to be slow going. The adults will ride on the streets and the kiddos will (mostly) ride the sidewalks. The direct route from our neighborhood to school, and I should clarify that we do not go to a neighborhood school, takes us directly through downtown with minimal bike infrastructure and many anxious, zippy, and red-light running drivers.  So we will be going a longer route, definitely a bit out of the way, but also a bit less busy and a bit more sane. Yet it still will be city riding and it will be somewhat stressful (crossing streets with the kids going from sidewalk across to the other sidewalk is daunting). But we will get there. And the kids can proudly say they rode themselves to school. And they can know that they are able to.  And we will see what happens from there....

If only every day, looked like this day.
Photo credit: Peter Hvizdak / New Haven Register
That's my older guys in the Nutcase helmets, riding with two of their classmates, right out there on the streets, enjoying this year's Rock to Rock Earth Day bike ride.


Jennifer said...

I'm biking to work and meetings and errands today because you all have inspired me to keep trying to make biking not just an athletic pursuit but a reasonable alternative to commuting.

Chicargo said...

We have been slowly running a bike train to our school we had a great spring last year, a rocky fall and just began a second route this morning.

We ride all in the street on quiet routes and through four way stops and traffic lights only. The Portland bike train site was terrific inspiration but had little nuts and bolts so we figured it our slowly ourselves. Once a week seems not enough but it's a start! J.

Rosa said...

What a great photo, and commitment too! When I was a kid in the suburbs in the '80s, biking was a privilege for upper elementary grades - the rest of us walked until we were old enough, and we were so jealous!

My first grader takes the bus in the morning (because we'd have to leave around 6:45 to make it in time and it's cold in the mornings). In the afternoon I haul his bike behind my cargo bike, and we both bike home. It's pretty time consuming, though. There are kids at his school who bike themselves - but they all seem to live within 5 or 6 blocks at the school. The way school choice works in my city, many of the kids come from much farther away - we come 2 miles on an off-street trail, but have to cross two very busy streets and one state highway. I have to say the crossings are nerve-wracking - one was improved so it's just 1 lane of car traffic each way, with a safety island, but the others are all 4 lanes, with cars turning left on red lights not wanting to yield at all. Luckily bike traffic is heavy enough we're usually in a highly-visible pack of bikes there.

sara said...

Cheers, all. Many thanks for reading & commenting.

Rosa-- Our older fellas rode on Friday and we went right through our downtown, crossing some busy city streets. They were on sidewalks for most to it while we rode on the street. They listened great and I was so proud of them. Yes, I know nerve-wracking (!) but this gave us hope that we can pull it off with them riding themselves more. Cheers.