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#1 2011-11-15 00:56:19

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,210
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Getting kids to bike to school

According to the Safe Routes to School Online Guide, 48% of kids age 5-14 walked or biked to school in 1969, compared to only 13% in 2009.  Heck, I'm surprised it's as high as 13%.

We recently visited friends in Merced, California.  They're Chinese immigrants, and despite how much a part of the culture biking is in China, they won't let their 12-year-old bike to school, because they feel American roads are too dangerous.

Last month the Statesman had an article on the subject, "Decision to let kids bike to school is a tough one for urban parents".

Our 12-year-old twins bike to school at Kealing.  They're just about the only ones.  I put out a call through the school's email newsletter (which goes to all parents) saying that my partner and I would be willing to lead a "bike bus" once a week for any parents who want a safer way for their kids to bike to school.  A bike bus is basically just a bunch of cyclists riding together, to get the safety-in-numbers principle.  We heard back from only one family.

It's funny, because Austin is often held up as an example of a cycling city, yet participation is still very low.  Clearly we've got our work cut out for us.

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#2 2011-11-15 11:07:08

Lynn
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 22

Re: Getting kids to bike to school

I live across the street from Reilly Elementary, and that school zone makes me really nervous on school mornings. I either bike commute or walk and take the train, and I have to leave right during rush hour. There's just way too much going on - heavy moving traffic with lots of turning vehicles and too many drivers on their cell phones, cars and SUVs waiting at the curb with lights on and engines running, and a busy pedestrian crossing + jaywalkers (only one crosswalk on Denson, and it's at the busy intersection with Guadalupe). It's hard to keep track of everything, especially when it's dark out. My biggest fear is that I'll be hit by a turning car while I'm walking to the train station. I can't fathom anyone sending their kid alone through that mess.

Most of the time I feel like my neighborhood is very pedestrian and bike friendly; that's why we bought our house there. It's just the school zone that's bad during rush hour.

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#3 2011-11-15 12:45:32

jmayson
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Registered: 2008-06-28
Posts: 46

Re: Getting kids to bike to school

I agree with Lynn.  School zones are the worst part of my bicycle commute.  They're clogged with traffic and inattentive drivers taking their kids to school in their land yachts.  Like half our traffic laws, the cell phone ban in school zones does little good.  The odds of being caught are nil, so parents chat away as they drive.

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#4 2011-11-15 14:35:37

eileenstx
Member
Registered: 2010-09-30
Posts: 13

Re: Getting kids to bike to school

So - Michael,
have you started a bike bus yet? I can't remember off the top of my head if Kealing is one of the Austin Safe Routes to School target schools this year, I know it was at one point. There should be some institutional knowledge there to support one.

I'd encourage you to start one even if it's only your kids and one other family. That's how movements are started.

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#5 2011-11-15 14:57:28

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,210
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Re: Getting kids to bike to school

Yes, Kealing is one of the schools that the city's Safe Routes to School program is working with this year.  We went to their presentation at the school.  They don't seem to be doing a whole lot, despite having four paid staff.  But anyway, regardless of what they do or don't do, it's gonna take parent & student participation to make it work.  So my family is trying.  And yes, we'll absolutely do the bike bus even if it's just one other family.  But I haven't heard back from that family so I don't know if even that will fly.

Parents worry that walking and biking is too dangerous for their kids, so they drive their kids to school, but that just increases the danger for everyone else, ironically.  I don't know what the solution is, but we feel it's safe enough for our own kids to bike to school -- and they *want* to bike to school -- so they do.

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#6 2011-11-15 18:41:25

bikinpolitico
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From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-09-04
Posts: 78
Website

Re: Getting kids to bike to school

Michael,
My children's school, St. Elmo Elementary, is on the Safe Routes to School program this year. At our campus, the current focus is getting regularly walking. The bike push will be coming later in the year. Maybe that is what is happening at Kealing?

I do not fault the staff. This year they have 4 people, but they are responsible for the entire city (I believe 5-6 campuses city-wide.) I think the larger problem is lack of resources, not too many. The Safe Routes to School program should be done at every campus, every year. Would that be expensive? Yes, but cheaper in the long run than just one highway fly-over which we would not need if we made the city truly bikeable/walkable (not to mention the 100s of millions saved in health care costs.)

I wrote more about this here including the strange absence of involving drivers in making routes to school safer: http://austinontwowheels.org/2011/09/16 … -the-bull/

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#7 2011-11-15 19:04:19

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,210
Website

Re: Getting kids to bike to school

Thanks, bp.  Yes, I'd seen your post.  All I know is what I've seen: They gave a short, lackluster presentation to any parents who could make it, and they made a post to the wrong email list.  Maybe they're doing more than that, but if so then I just haven't seen it.  Their website doesn't give any clue about what else they might be doing, either.  I don't know what they're spending their time on.

By the way, one of the staffers is Doug Ballew, who is infamous for helping secretly shepherd the 1996 all-ages helmet law through City Council, which passed the law as an emergency measure on first reading before anyone else ever knew about it.

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