Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bike Ped 3: To School

Can you and should you get Boston kids to ride their bikes to school? According to Donna Smallwood, MassRIDES' special projects coordinator, that's an enthusiastic yes, with many caveats.

At the Moving Together conference his month, she thumped for the Safe Routes to Schools (SRS) program. The aim is to the kids' butts in the saddle instead of the van. They get healthier, schools don't need lots for kids' cars, and parents don't use gas and clog the streets with their vehicles. Life is good.

Downsides include that many adult cyclists and parents are aware that the streets to school are dangerous. Part of this is that so many parents drive their kids to school — the vicious cycle for cycles. In suburban and exurban areas, schools have been increasingly regional too. So they are too far from home for practical commuting by bike.

Where practical, some parents have walking school buses, basically a cordon of kids and parents together walking to school. This works best where there are true neighborhood schools within two mile of home.

An extra wrinkle in Boston is the exam-school system, equivalent to the regional schools. For us, Latin is nearly five miles away with some dangerous streets, and Latin Academy is three and one-half over very dangerous roads (Blue Hill Avenue and Washington Street.

In addition, the current version of the SRS has grants for elementary and middle-schools. So this does nothing for the kids most capable of claiming lanes nor does it help in limiting students' driving to school

Hey, it's a start though.

And Bike Paths

Boston's silly and inadequate bike paths are filled with frost heaves, don't go to important destinations and are often riddled with glass shards. Today's Globe carries an alternate vision by a Colombian. When Enrique Peñalosa spoke to 100 Orchard Gardens School kids, he didn't brag about being former mayor of Bogotá or candidate for his country's presidency. He talked politics and MIT and crossed the river to talk bikes in Roxbury.

He called the lack of bike paths and routes in Boston and other supposedly sophisticated cities "human rights abuse." Basically, if ordinary folk can't get to work and elsewhere without being able to afford to own, operate and park cars, they are marginalized.

He wowed the kids with pix and words of bicycle garages and bridges he built. Also, Bogotá bans cars from downtown twice weekly. On his initiative, the city has over 100 miles of new bike paths.

After his talk and plea for biking to school, Lisa Evans, the teacher who invited him, saw several of her students biking in, on a rainy Monday. She said, "I was so proud. This was the ultimate goal. I didn't realize it would happen so quickly."

Now, what do you suppose it will take to get Tommy Menino righteous on this?

Also see Bike Ped 1 and Bike Ped 2 for related coverage and rants.


Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to ride my bike to school, but I have a 20-pound backpack, and it's 4 miles away...

massmarrier said...

That is tough, and understandable. I'll ride the 7 miles to work any day it is not sleeting or otherwise really nasty, but I'm an adult, who can change when he gets there and has lots of experience in city traffic. I don't want my two kids at home to ride to school.

On the other hand, if we had a really bike friendly city with bike paths and lanes everywhere, we would have 1) a lot of people biking, 2) awareness by both motorists and cops helping keep cyclists safe, and 3) safe routes for kids to use.

I'm overdue getting more involved in making those happen.