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« Bike-to-School Bans? Bring it. »

There's been some attention recently on the interwebs and at the Safe Routes to School conference about bike (and walk!) to school bans in certain school districts, which is an issue that's had me at a low boil since hearing about a ban in Highline School district.

In Highline, kids in K-3 are not allowed to bike to school. It's not even clear that they can arrive by bike with a parent alongside or transporting them on a high occupancy velo. Here's the vague policy. I've heard rumors about a similar ban on Mercer Island. I've not yet heard about any Seattle schools with similar bans.

The reasons generally given by principals and school boards involve safety (read: liability) concerns about busy streets near the school. And sometimes overblown Law & Order/TeeVee News inspired concerns about abductions and "predators" on bike paths. And totally feeble excuses like lack of bike parking, or not wanting to be responsible for bike thefts. Or handwringing about helmet laws and letting children leave school legally if they forget their helmet.

But if I may state the obvious: if school administrators are so worried about the safety of their students on local roads, why are they making said roads more dangerous by requiring parents to drive kids that otherwise could walk or bike?!? What's the biggest threat to life and limb on the road ... Anyone? Anyone? It's the cars (and drivers). What impact would bike-to-school bans have on local motor vehicle traffic ... Anyone? Anyone? Raise traffic or lower traffic? Anyone? Raise traffic ... which would lead to, anyone?, increased congestion, idling and polluting, rushed and distracted driving, and possibly getting your students hit or run over, in or out of their cars.

As Lenore Skenazy argues on her excellent Free Range Kids blog:

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!

Some districts ban or discourage bicycles in middle and high school (Buffalo Springs, New Jersey, to name a few)! Help me here. I know that there are many suburban/exurban schools surrounded by busy arterials with non-existent bike facilities in sprawl-tastic cul-de-suck sidewalk-less developments. There are safety issues to weigh carefully, at any age and in any community. But when did that become the job of the schools and not of the parents? Afraid that installing donated bike racks will encourage biking to school and expose the school to legal risk (true story)? How about that big freaking parking lot for all the teenage drivers you built? How's their safety record? You really want to encourage teenage driving?

Aside from such immediate risks, these policies contribute to our national epidemic of shut-ins and obesity. School boards - take a long, hard look at that big athletic field that drove your new megaschool out to the edges of civilization. See those kids sitting on their butts waiting for at-bats while swilling gatorade like they were running a marathon, then getting chauffeured to the team pizza party? They're not getting any less overweight. You need to start promoting active transportation, not banning it.

Besides, where do they get off telling parents what they can or can't do with their kids off of school property? Banning bikes on school property may be legal (albeit stupid), and could make biking totally inconvenient, but how can they mandate our mode of travel on the way to and from school?

Are any of our Seattle readers aware of any local bans? Anyone tested the Highline or Mercer Island policies yet? I'm itching for a showdown. Who's with me? Prepare to be boarded!!!



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Reader Comments (14)

I find this idea totally outrageous and am having a hard time believing that these 'no bike' bans could possibly extend to a parent riding his/her child in a bakfiets, Madsen, Xtra, etc. Are school allowed to say what type of car can be driven to drop off/pick up?

August 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersara

Puh-leeze. It's all bluster. Are they going to turn the kid away at the door? Let's give this a moment's consideration. First and foremost public schools have a "compulsory requirement* to educate children. This is actually one of their achilles heels when dealing with behavioural problems and special needers. In fact, I'd love to hear some blow-hard principal with a Masters in Education from directional-U explain how their compulsory requirement is super-ceded by his diktat against legal means of transportation. I'd laugh in his face.

August 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAllanF

1991? 1991? Follow the link. The policy was last reviewed nearly a generation ago. It originally dates to 1985. I'll take a guess that the helmet provisions were added six years later. In any case, this is a dinosaur of a policy and the board needs to be shamed into updating it for this century.

August 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDougS

amen! we're with you! Kids should be riding bikes to school. I support Anne's idea/suggestion that parents who drive their kids to school should be required to park at least 1-2 blocks away and walk so as to reduce congestion/traffic risk right around the school.

August 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterghd

My favorite stat from "Pedaling Revolution" is something like: "Kids have a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of being abducted and a 1 in 79,000 chance of being killed while playing youth football."

That right there says a lot about how we view risk, safety, sports, and transportation in our schools and communities.

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim K

Yeah Pedaling Revolution has great stats in this area. The football one was memorable. But I'm with Allan F. How on earth is this enforceable? What's next in the unenforceable diktat department - parents can't drop off kids in cars with expired tabs?

But I agree it sends totally the wrong message, so enforceable or not, it's a big bummer.

August 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBikejuju

Enforcement in some of these districts seems to involve confiscating bikes, not letting children leave at the end of the day by bike, removing bike parking, and banning bikes from school property, which at some schools would be really inconvenient.

I have a hard time seeing how they could keep me from dropping off a younger elementary school child by bike, however. Our reference school is one block away, however, so I may not get to test this. It is a marker for how bike-crazed I am that I wish the school were a bit further, so we could bike together ...

August 24, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Bikes also banned at this San Jose Elementary School ...

September 2, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Grear article a simillar thing is happening in the UK. We expect this nonsense in the UK where our govnmt for good or bad is more intrusive into our lives. I'm suprised to see the same thing happening in the US where you have a lite touch govmnt. I suppose its the same issue though schools have a disproportionate amount of power and are their own mini states which have very little accountability.

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercycledad

There may be some very sound reasons why bicycles are not allowed to be ridden to
a school. Might it be due to the quantity of vehicles and the narrowness of street space? Might it be due to the sheer volume and congestion that travels to any given area as we close schools, increase class sizes an still place students in schools that were built 50 years ago when most students walked to school? Today, students are driven to school in SUV's and parents are on their cell phones not watching the streets as closely as one might hope.

There could be very reasonable reasons NOT to allow this at a school. Let's hope that the community that wants this so very badly is not sorry later if a child is injured or worse.

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConcerned Parent

Absolutely, there are some streets or neighborhoods where cycling to school is more dangerous. But I think it's the job of the "concerned parent" rather than the school administrator to decide how each family arrives at their school. What the school administrator could be doing instead is starting a Safe Routes to School program that promotes safe, adult-supervised transportation alternatives, lobbying for better sidewalk and trail access to their school, using more crossing guards or other traffic-calming measures, or limiting single-family car dropoffs rather than banning bikes.

But you are correct that many students are chauffeured to school by distracted, SUV-driving parents, which makes the local roads more dangerous for everyone, including the children being driven! I'm not sure how forbidding alternate methods of transportation is going to do anything but perpetuate that broader safety issue, however.

October 1, 2009 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

Re: Concerned Parent

Who is responsible for the minefield, the people who walk in it, or the people who made it a public danger in the first place?

Okay, now I understand that you drive and all, but take this little leap of logic please:

Who is responsible for making narrow streets overcrowded and dangerous? Pedestrians and cyclists, or motorists?

October 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErnie

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