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?
Mea culpa - for a few hours I had the school district as Shoreline rather than Highline. It's now corrected. Sorry Shoreline! Don't be like Highline.