Furor — and Aftermath — Over Suspension of Biking Students

Hi Readers! Quite a few of you sent in this story, now gone viral, about the high school principal who suspended upward of 6o students for their “prank” — a mass bike ride to school. As WOOD TV reported:

Seniors called police for an escort, and even called Walker’s mayor, who rode in the parade.

“Police escort, with the mayor, who brought us donuts. …The mayor brought us donuts…” said a group of seniors following the ride.

But school official weren’t told in advance, hence the word prank, and were not happy with the event.

They kicked the seniors out of school for their last day and threatened to keep them from walking in graduation ceremonies set for May 30.

The principal was upset not only because the ride led to traffic snarling (and principal snarling, apparently), but also because, “”If you and your parents don’t have sense enough to know your brains could end up splattered on Three Mile and Kinney, Fruit Ridge, then maybe that’s my responsibility.”

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe things that go on outside of school have nothing to do with the principal. And maybe people who are 17 or 18 and are responsible enough to call the police AHEAD OF TIME are responsible enough to take a bike ride. And maybe bike riding is GOOD.

All these points seem to have occurred — belatedly — to the principal who has since issued an apology. Mostly it seems she was taken by surprise and overwhelmed with worry. In the cold light of dawn (and massive media attention) she realized this was not truly a “prank.” It was the way we’d like our kids to act pretty much all the time.

So — hats off to the biking seniors, and to a  principal willing to do the brave thing and say, “I was wrong.” Everyone is growing up so fast! – L.

Help Save Safe Routes to School & Public Transit!

Hi Readers: This just in from the Safe Routes folks! – L.

Double Your Impact—Act Now on Key Senate and House Transportation Votes

Next Tuesday both the US House and Senate may vote on new transportation bills that could destroy transit, bicycling and walking funding, including the popular Safe Routes to School program, which is now getting kids moving safely again at over 12,000 schools around the US! A national coalition of groups including the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and many, many others, are asking you to help to make streets safer  for kids.

This vote will take place early next week, so please take action now!

·         Safety matters. Bicycle and pedestrian deaths make up 14% of all traffic fatalities, but only 1.5% of federal funds go towards making walking and biking safer. These programs provide funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that make streets safe for all users.

·         Active transportation is a wise investment. Walking and biking infrastructure is low-cost, creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway spending, and is critical to economic development for main street America. A University of Massachusetts study of 11 cities found that bicycling and walking infrastructure projects created over 11 jobs per million dollars spent, whereas road-only projects created less than 8 jobs per million dollars spent. And since bicycling and walking projects are more labor-intensive than road projects, they mostly create jobs right in the local communities where the projects are located, not in other parts of a state, the US or overseas.

The current Senate transportation bill dilutes Safe Routes to School, walking and bicycling programs. It gives your state department of transportation the power to decide whether or not to make any funding available for these critical programs. Local governments deserve a voice in transportation. To improve the bill,  Senators should  vote for the Cardin-Cochran amendment on the floor to guarantee local governments a voice in transportation decisions, allowing them to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways that keep people safe.

In the House,  Representatives should oppose the House transportation bill. Despite the fact that walking and bicycling infrastructure is a low-cost investment that creates more jobs per dollar than any other kind of highway spending, the House bill eliminates dedicated funding for walking and bicycling and repeals the Safe Routes to School program.

The House bill also brings to an end 30 years of dedicated transit funding, increasing the unpredictability of transit funding for communities already suffering from a lack of federal commitment to public transportation. The bill also guts Amtrak, High-Speed and Passenger Rail funding. At a time when ridership has steadily increased to its highest point in Amtrak history, the bill will cut Amtrak funding by over $300 million.

The House bill takes us back to the 1950s by eliminating dedicated funding for bicycling and walking AND kicking transit out of the highway trust fund. We need a transportation bill to meet our needs in 2012 and beyond.

Congress needs to know that finding effective, efficient transportation solutions to keep people safe on the streets should be a national priority. Will you contact your Representative and Senators today and ask them to save our streets?  By taking action, you can easily contact both your Senators and Representative in one simple step.

And, if you want to do even more, get your mayor, your school principal, or other community leaders to call their Senators too.

Thank you for all that you do for Safe Routes to School!

Safety Tip? “Children Under Five Don’t Ride Bikes”

Hi Readers!  Lisa, the mother of a 3-year-old, who lives in Atlanta and blogs at Organic Baby Atlanta found this “tip” at safekids.org when she was researching bike safety for toddlers:

“Because they are not ready to ride bicycles, children under the age of five ride tricycles. “

Notes Lisa:

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Wow. What a blanket statement. So there’s never been a single 4-year-old on a real bike? Not one? Funny, because I see kids under age five riding real bikes in my neighborhood all the time. And–oh, wait–isn’t my daughter under five? Yeah, that’s right: she’s three, and she’s been practicing on a pedal-less balance bike since she was 18 months old. She’s now riding it well and will soon graduate to a real bike with pedals. No training wheels. Even more shocking, she’s only had one or two falls (she’s a cautious kid). But I must just be seeing things when I think I see little kids on bikes, because, “Kids under the age of five ride tricycles.” Maybe those bikes actually have an invisible third wheel?
Or maybe there are just a lot of really short 5-year-olds in my neighborhood. — Lisa
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Notes Lenore: The more we dangerize normal childhood activities, the less normal an active childhood becomes. Let’s hear it for sedentary kids, obesity and the great indoors!  

Criminally Confident in Our Kids

Hi Readers — Here’s my syndicated column from last week. Sorry it took me to long to get to the Tennessee bike rider story. Got overwhelmed by other stuff. Here goes! – L

CALLING ALL COPS…OFF

So, a mom in Tennessee, Teresa Tryon, has been told by the police that she was wrong to allow her 10-year-old daughter to bike to and from school. Do it again before the police discuss this with Child Protective Services, she was warned, and she could face charges of child neglect.

Though Tryon believed her child was safe, the police officer didn’t. And that was enough to put the mom on thin legal ice.

The bike ride is less than 10 minutes each way. The mom herself said she passed a total of eight cars on her two journeys on that same route that same day. Moreover, she had her daughter take a bike safety class before any of this.

Does it get any safer than that? Perhaps the girl should just never get on a bike at all. That would probably satisfy the cop. But what about the kid, who wants a childhood? And the mom, who wants an active, independent little girl? And the town, which could be buzzing with kids playing outside or could be just a barren expanse of empty lawns?

The cooped-up kids and lifeless lawns are collateral damage in the war against terror — the terror we are supposed to feel whenever we think of children doing anything on their own. If you don’t share that terror, you risk trouble with the law.

I know because it happened to me, too. After I let my son ride the subway solo at age 9 a few years back, I also let him ride the commuter train out to the burbs when he turned 10. He went back and forth to his friend’s house many times, but then, one time, one of the conductors noticed him and went ballistic. “You should NOT be riding alone!” he said. Izzy offered to let the man talk to me on the phone, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he radioed ahead to the cops, who were waiting when my son got off the train.

Also waiting, by the way, was the family of the kid my son was going to see.  They always pick him up.

You’d think that would be proof enough that this was a situation both families felt comfortable with, but instead, the train was held for several minutes while the police questioned the friend’s family and then called me. Finally, the cop conceded this was probably OK, so the conductor got back on the train, and that was that.

Until about a month later, when it all happened again.

The same cop called me. And when I said that Izzy was now carrying a printout from the train’s own website that said kids as young as eight can ride alone,  and that furthermore that I personally felt my son was safe — at rush hour, surrounded by hundreds of commuters — the officer said, “But what if someone tries to abduct him?”

I said that in that very unlikely scenario, I thought the other people would help him.

Countered the cop: “What if TWO guys try to abduct him?”

This is what I call “Worst-First” thinking — jumping to the very WORST scenario FIRST and acting as if it were likely to happen. Two guys waiting at a commuter train platform just in case a 10-year-old might happen to be riding by himself that day and they could somehow grab each arm with no one noticing? (And as my son asked later,  “Isn’t the policeman there to KEEP me safe?”)

Of course, there are police officers who understand that kids are not in constant danger and allow them to go about the business of learning to navigate the world. But when a cop comes knocking on your door or calling you from the train platform, you realize that until we abolish “Worst-First” thinking, kids can’t be kids — and the police get to parent.

Why Is This Radical? A Town Debates LETTING Kids Ride Their Bikes to School

Hi Readers! This is an encouraging story (from boston.com), in that Arlington, MA., a town outside of Boston, is pushing to get more kids biking to school.  But the fact that this initiative is CONTROVERSIAL is enough to make you bang your head against a bike horn. (Or vice versa.) Here’s a bit of the story, which begins by describing how bike-friendly the town seems to be:

No corner of the town is more than a few miles from the Minuteman Bikeway, the most popular bike path in the country. The town is home to two bicycle stores and a bike club whose members set off on long rides every Saturday and Sunday morning. A bicycling committee advises town leaders on bike issues.

And yet, until recently, school officials informally banned children from biking to school.

So far, none of the schools have bike racks. Last year, a pilot project to encourage children to ride their bikes to the Hardy School, the elementary school in East Arlington, was controversial.

“My view was, if you can’t ride to school in Arlington, then there’s no place you can ride to school in Massachusetts,’’ said David Watson, an Arlington resident and executive director of MassBike, a Boston-based bike advocacy group. “It’s already a bike-friendly community.’’

To those who want to encourage children to ride their bikes to school, the advantages seem clear: It’s better for the environment. And in an age of increasing fears about childhood obesity, they argue, it’s better for kids.

But not everyone agrees. Some parents and school officials are fearful about children sharing busy roads with minivans and SUVs ferrying children to school. (Most Arlington children live within a mile of an elementary school, so there are no school buses.)

And so it goes: Common sense — and the fact that this is one of the bikingest places in America — would seem to suggest that biking is not a terrible, crazy, death-defying idea. And yet the “What if???” brigade will always have its say. I agree: WE DO NOT WANT KIDS BEING MOWED DOWN BY MINIVANS! But here’s a great stat that I state in my book, too: HALF of all the kids injured by cars near schools are injured by cars dropping off OTHER kids at the school. So if we just scaled back on the chauffeuring, we’d already have a much safer route to school. Go Arlington! Get those kids pedaling! (And the next idea being contemplated there: Getting kids to ride to their ball game practices. Imagine!) — Lenore

Some day, Arlington. Some day!

Mom & Son Bike to School. State Trooper Awaits!

Hi Readers! In defiance of a policy that seems to forbid biking to the local grammar and middle schools in Saratoga, New York, a mom and her middle school son did just that last Wednesday.  That is, they ignored “a phone call placed to students’ homes by school officials, asking parents not to allow students to walk or ride bikes to school,” according to The Saratogan. And then?

Upon arriving at school on Wednesday, Adam and Janette Kaddo Marino were met outside by school officials and a New York State Trooper, who were on hand for the first day of school. They were informed that they were “out of compliance,” and had a lengthy discussion over where Adam’s bike could be locked.

And you thought State Troopers were the strong, silent type.

What’s cool is that the next day, mom and son were joined by several supportive adults. Friday was too rainy for a ride, but we can only hope more and bicyclists will be converging every day. (I can see the Disney movie now!)

For its part, the school district is said to be “reviewing” its bike policy.

Good. Once again, it’s not that any of us here are in favor of danger: If we were talking about kids riding their bikes up slippery slopes frequented by ice road truckers who drive while texting, that’s one thing. But The Saratogan reports that the road  in question is actually designated a bike route by the New York State Department of Transportation.

Let’s hear it for folks who defy laws that make no sense and don’t even make us safer.  (And for a middle school student who is still willing to be seen in public with his mom.) — Lenore

Free-Range Kids Outrage of the Week: No Biking to School

This one comes from blogger Denise Gonzalez-Walker. It’s the rules for getting to school in a district near Seattle. Please note the bolded words:

Bicycles

Students in grades 4,5 and 6 may ride bikes, roller blades, skateboards and non-motor scooters to school.  According to Highline District policy, a protective helmet must be worn when riding a bike, skateboard, scooter or roller blades to school.  District policy also prohibits the riding of bicycles to and from school by children in grades K-3, even when accompanied by an adult (policy #3424).

That’s right. Parents are forbidden to bike with their kids to school in the early grades. Even if the parents believe their kids are ready. Even if the parents want to show them how to ride safely! As Denise points out, “Policies like this discourage teaching opportunities.”

 Meanwhile, what opportunities do they encourage? Driving! More chance for kids to sit passively and be dropped off.

 Where is the sense in that? In my book, I point out that 50% of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by cars driven by parents dropping off THEIR children because they’re afraid of THEM being hit by cars. So if everyone just quit driving their kids to school, we’d already see a 50% drop in injuries!

A no-biking policy like this calls for action on the part of parents – approaching the PTA or school board and saying, “Who is this policy supposed to serve? We want our kids to be active and we want to teach them how to be safe. This policy thwarts both.”

But feel free to use a stronger word than thwarts. – Lenore