Jersey High School Students Protest Anti-Bike Policy

Bridgewater-Raritan High doesn’t want to encourage cycling (or, apparently, walking) to school

These kids today. Members of the student environmental club at New Jersey’s Bridgewater-Raritan High School raised $2,000 over the last four years, and what do they want to do with it? Give the school a bike rack, of all things. But Principal James Riccobono is having none of that nonsense, as the Star-Ledger reports:

"It didn’t seem that logical. It would be at no
cost to them," [club co-president Michelle] Slosberg, 18, said yesterday as she
slipped on her bike helmet and prepared for a nearly
20-minute ride home.

"Actually, they said no on Earth Day," remarked
Katherine Dransfield, a senior who has tried, with a group
of other students, to start a bike club. "Essentially
what they told us was that they didn’t want to promote
biking as a way to get to school."

Slosberg and Dransfield said Riccobono expressed concerns
over the safety of students jostling with the heavy bus and
car traffic in front of the school and biking along busy
Garretson Road.

But many students don’t see it that way. Senior
Talia Perry, 18, dressed in sporty biking gear and
sunglasses, said she and her friends were quite "worked
up" after the school refused "what we portrayed as
a gift to the school."

Offended by the snub, students promptly began planning a
response. Yesterday, more than 50 students rode their bikes
to school, commuting in pairs and groups. After studying up
on state biking laws — and carrying copies with them — the
students legally tethered their bikes in conspicuous
clusters around lamp posts, trees and other poles dotting
the circular drive in front of the school.

Following the mass ride, students delivered a letter to Riccobono protesting the bike rack prohibition, but the principal was not moved.

Instead, he responded with a missive of his own:

"In as much as the district provides courtesy busing
to students who live within walking distance of the high
school, because of the danger on Garretson Road, it does
(not) make sense, in my opinion, to promote the riding of
bicycles to school," the letter read.

Riccobono has suggested that cycling students chain their bikes to a fence surrounding a retention pond at the back of the school grounds, an area students refer to as "the swamp."

Meanwhile, environmental club member Alec Story points out that, while it refuses to accept a gifted bike rack, the school has invested in a parking spot for every senior who drives.

  • Go students!

    The principal’s anti-bike attitude is so knee-jerk reactionary, especially in light of the no-cost, minimal impact factor of the rack, that it makes me wonder if he is receiving some kind of kickback from automakers to increase demand (witness the parking lot renovation to provide each senior with a free parking space).

    I am leading the charge in my Manhattan office building to let employees bring their bicycles indoors, and I would love to have a similar bike action where 50+ people ride to the building and chain their bikes to the fence.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “In as much as the district provides courtesy busing to students who live within walking distance of the high school, because of the danger on Garretson Road, it does (not) make sense, in my opinion, to promote the riding of bicycles to school.”

    That is quite a statement. Don’t bike. Don’t even walk.

    Looking across the landscape, there is a huge difference between pre-1980s suburbs and places that have been built in the past 25 years.

    The former, like much of Nassau County, often features sidewalks and has higher densities. As I described here:

    it is possible that such places could be retrofit to allow a decent life with one car and lots of bicycle riding. The distances are too great for walking, but not for biking, at that density.

    In far out exurban places like this one, however, there are often no sidewalks, densities are lower, and there is usually no possibility of going anywhere without a car. And the houses, built to post-1980s standards, are much larger. Absent cheap energy, they are unlivable. The commute to Manhattan isn’t so great either.

    I think we will see the differences in relative real estate values over the next decade or two. Be careful where you buy.

  • Hilary

    But let’s look first at the biking situation here in NYC public schools. How many of them have safe places for students to store bikes?

  • plist

    That’s insane! I haven’t commented here in awhile but this post (believe it or not) made me want to throw in my 2 cents. As a kid growing up in SoCal suburbia a bike was completely necessary. The bus system was horrible (and still is from what i hear), distances were too far to walk, bikes were the only option. Skateboards were good for short distances. I remember the Junior High School I attended had a massive bike lock area that was fenced off for security – about the size of a full basketball court. Great for these students taking the initiative and fighting for their beliefs.

  • Clarence

    Wow, this would have made a great Streetfilm.

    WAIT, still can kids, get out your cameras!

  • brent

    Biking dangerous? This principal is igorant of the dangers of teen driving. I can think of at least five automobile related deaths during my four (ok maybe it was five?) years of high school alone.

  • Spud Spudly

    Nervous school admininstrators who are afraid they’ll be blamed if some kid on a bike gets hurt. All they want are for parents to drive the kids or the kids to take a school bus. Silly.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Nervous school admininstrators who are afraid they’ll be blamed if some kid on a bike gets hurt.)

    Having worked for the government, I can’t blame administrators for being nervous. No one gets blamed for doing something. But if you do 10 things and one of them doesn’t work right away and causes a small problem, you are in trouble.

    Let’s imagine NYC made a big push to get middle schoolers to bike to school. Sooner or later, one or two would die or be permanently disabled in a traffic accident. It’s simply the law of very big numbers. And swarmy local pols will see their chance to take someone down and look good.

    No administrator is being blamed for the obesity epidemic.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (No one gets blamed for doing something.)

    No one gets blamed for doing nothing, I meant to write.

  • Mitch

    All they want are for parents to drive the kids or the kids to take a school bus.

    And this creates the illusion of safety. But every now and then, kids or school employees step out of their cars or off the bus and get run down by parents dropping off their kids.

  • Jason A

    Larry I think you make an important distinction with the suburbs developed up into the 70s. As a big fan of this blog :-), I’m obviously wary of any suburban development. But I feel it’s important we recognize the nuance in the big-brush term of “suburb.”

    I suspect many of our older suburban communities actually enjoy workable densities. Not ideal, but definitely “do-able.” I grew up for a time in such a community, developed right after WWII. I have come to realize that if I went car-free back home, my bike riding distances would actually *drop*, compared to the miles I do here in the city.

    (Not to mention, if things become completely unhinged, such areas enjoy yards and plenty of space for permaculure and gardening – a luxury that’s obviously hard to come by here in ny…)

    The new(er) developments, however, are unworkable, disasters-waiting-to-happen. I can’t see a future in these no-sidewalk communities where you need to drive 2 miles for a gallon of milk. Much like SUVs, some of these outsized, exurban cul-de-sacs represent the worst of shortsighted, American excess.

    At any rate… Larry I just reemphasize your point b/c I feel this distinction is important for people who respond to new urbanism/sensible development-type arguments with a knee-jerk, “But I won’t live in Manhattan!!!”

  • Josh

    Brent wrote:
    “Biking dangerous? This principal is igorant of the dangers of teen driving. I can think of at least five automobile related deaths during my four (ok maybe it was five?) years of high school alone.”

    To be fair, reckless/inexperienced teen drivers are probably part of the reason why the principal feels biking to school is unsafe. This is only a motivation for this course of action if you accept that bad teen drivers driving to the high school are an inevitable fact, though.

  • Spud Spudly, it seems the school is actually encouraging kids (as well as their parents) to drive. Witness the investment in a parking space for every senior mentioned near the end of the post.

  • DCBird

    Local bike club Morristown Pedal Pushers published contact info for the Principal and Superintendent on their blog…

    Here’s some email addresses if you have some sort of opinion:

    James Riccobono, Principal:
    Superintendent Michael Schilder:

  • Geck

    I am happy to report the PS 321 in Park Slope just added a bunch of new bike racks for students and converted the old rack area making it exclusively for staff.

  • Hilary

    These communities don’t need sidewalks as much as shared-use greenways, which may or may not follow the roads. The problem is distance and the speed of traffic on roads with drainage ditches on either side.

  • Josh said: “To be fair, reckless/inexperienced teen drivers are probably part of the reason why the principal feels biking to school is unsafe. This is only a motivation for this course of action if you accept that bad teen drivers driving to the high school are an inevitable fact, though.”

    Indeed, the school administration could actively discourage driving to school through various means (such as not making parking available)–and, after all, isn’t it competing with this courtesy bus service they’re so proud of?

  • This says to me that the students don’t just need a bike rack. They need traffic calming on Garretson Road much more urgently – to make it safe to walk as well as to bike.

    “In as much as the district provides courtesy busing to students who live within walking distance of the high school, because of the danger on Garretson Road, it does (not) make sense, in my opinion, to promote the riding of bicycles to school,” the letter read.

  • James

    I work as a town planner outside of NYC and can tell you that the no-bikes policy appears to be the norm at schools here in the suburbs. The school administration operate in a highly litigious environment and won’t budge on the issue. We tried to get them to install bike racks at the schools but they weren’t having any of it. A shame, as like another post said, these inner-ring suburbs have a pretty workable urban form and are well-suited to bike transport.

  • I just sent the following email to the principal:

    Dear Mr. Riccobono:

    I was dismayed to learn that you recently denied the school environmental club’s request to install a bicycle rack, a rack that they had raised the money to pay for. Our country is currently experiencing an energy crisis, with gas prices near $4 per gallon, and promoting student automobile use (as demonstrated by the school’s provision of a parking space for every senior who drives) while actively discouraging cycling and walking is not only fiscally irresponsible and damaging to the environment, it endangers your students’ lives. As cited by the government Centers for Disease Control, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash (

    Students should be encouraged to save their money and improve their health by walking and riding bicycles to school whenever possible. Moreover, the environmental club’s responsible entrepreneurship and initiative should be rewarded. By reducing the number of teen drivers on the road and working with your local government and businesses to reduce traffic on Garretson Road, you will help foster a healthier and more productive learning environment at Bridgewater-Raritan High School for your students and staff.

  • Mark Walker

    Jason A (#11) is right. Some suburban communities are walkable. I was struck by this story because it’s in a Jersey town near the one I grew up in. I walked to school every day, from kindergarten to my senior year in high school. The walk was as little as three minutes to the school behind my house and as much as 45 minutes to the high school. It didn’t do me any harm. On rainy days the neighborhood moms would get together and load up carpools with their own kids and other people’s kids.

    My parents’ house is two blocks from Route 28 where there is a bus that connects to several adjoining towns and ends up at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There is a tiny strip mall within a 10 minute walk of the house with a supermarket, pharmacy, drugstore, liquor store, hardware store, dry cleaner, etc.

    Some of these old towns that we call suburbs are, in fact, villages with a lot of suburban fat added since the 1950s. They will be in a good position to survive an energy-scarce future because they are already fairly compact, have some mass transit, and more mass transit can be added when needed.

  • Here’s an example of some similar bike rack activism in NYC.

    When SB reported on the DoT’s release of “Safe Routes to Schools” reports on “priority” schools in 2006, I went through them looking for mentions of bicycling safety.

    The reports systematically surveyed levels of bicycling to school in some boroughs and communities, but not others. In particular, bike use only within Queens and Staten Island communities, and a few orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, were surveyed.

    The reports all presented crash maps of the areas surrounding these “priority” schools, but inexplicably omitted bicycling crashes from the maps.

    As for dangers faced by kids in getting to school in NYC, when my son and I bicycle past P.S. 87 most mornings, we see parents endangering their kids all the time by having them jump out of the car on their own into the middle of the street. The parents can’t pull up to the curb because all the curbside spaces are taken by illegally parking teachers (in the “no parking” spaces) or neighborhood residents (in the unregulated spaces). The kids run around in the middle of the street looking for a way to squeeze past the double parked cars which are also in the process of ejecting their own kids (or have just finished doing so, and are about to accelerate. Some of the kids look like first and second graders who are not even as tall as the headlights on the SUVs that so many of these drive-by parents like to drive.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Do you know where students are most likely to get hit as they walk to school??
    Right in front of the school!! With all the buses but more importantly ALL THE PARENTS DRIVING THEIR KIDS TO SCHOOL (and in this case teenage drivers), it creates a chaotic environment where pedestrian collisions are much more likely to happen.

    I’ve actually ridden my bike down that road once right past the high school and while it wasn’t perfectly safe, it wasn’t dangerous at all. However I went past on a weekend, things probably get worse on weekdays particularly during the school rush like I mention above.

  • Will

    Maybe it’s a chance for the students to challenge their town/school district to make cycling safe with a bike lane and signage on that one road the principal mentions as particularly dangerous. Safe routes to school!

  • Geck

    As a kid in the inner suburbs (Southeast Nassau) I walked to school and rode my bike everywhere (piano lessons, friend’s houses, jobs, the beach, neighborhood shops, the mall). Of course, upon getting a license, the bicycle lost some of its appeal. As an adult, I rediscovery the beauty and utility of biking as my primary means of transportation.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Maybe the students can use that $2,000 towards a traffic calming study for Garretsen Road.

  • bureaucrat

    Agree that many older suburbs remain walkable and bikeable. As much as my north Jersey hometown is not for me, I am heartened when I go back and still see the roving bands of kids, all ages, walking around, biking around, especially in warm weather. In fact the little downtown main street area is more buzzing than when I was growing up – more food choices, more kids hanging out. And some of the elementary schools near downtown even let kids above 4th grade go out for lunch, with parent’s signature. All hope is not lost. And as someone pointed out above, it could be argued that some of these suburban towns are actually more supportive of kids biking to school than NYC.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As I’ve noted, since a bicycle travels at more than three times the speed, even when ridden by someone like me, it provides the same level of accessiblity that I moved to Brooklyn for at 1/3 the density.

    But new suburbs in the Northeast are built at much less density than that. That is why metro LA has more total density than metro NY, even though nowhere in metro LA is as dense as NYC.

  • Jamie

    Just throwing this out there that I go to Bridgewater and we do pay for parking, it is not free. Next year it will be $100 a year for a parking spot, not to mention it is a lottery so not even every student who can drive and is a senior will be provided a spot. Biking would be a lot cheaper.

    In front of the school, it is often crowded with parents dropping their kids off, and I agree with (#18) that what is more needed is control of traffic in the area if it is unsafe. Our senior parking lot (often called “the pit”) is even more unsafe especially with the teen drivers, and there are mini fender benders all the time.

    I don’t feel that putting up bike racks would add to the danger at all, it provides an alternate method of transportation, and if kids are willing to take the risk of getting to school that way then they should have a place to leave their bikes safely.

  • Mike

    As an actual student of this school, I would like to point out something. At the times when students are entering and exiting the school, traffic is at its most congested. With 2800 students coming and going at once on one road, the average speed is roughly 5 mph for the entire stretch of roadway and the turns surrounding it. Is traffic this slow, and often stopped completely, really so unsafe to bicycle in?

  • jeremy

    I sent an email to the principal as well. Won’t he be surprised he’s caused such a ruckus!

  • kendra

    ok, hold on a second. Jamie, are you saying the school charges $100 for a parking space? and there is a lottery because there aren’t enough $100 parking spaces?

    argh, this is so annoying!

  • Kumar

    Bridgewater, at least the part by the high school, is definitely not an inner-ring suburb. It’s interesting, however, it has more potential than many other exurban school districts and areas. There is a large regional park directly across the street and the Bridgewater Commons mall could be a short bike ride away. Perfect opportunities for exurban infill a la visions for Tysons Corner.

  • I think some of you are misinterpreting this principal’s actions. What more effective way to make biking to school cool than to have the principal discourage it! This makes all the motoring students a bunch of butt-kissing mama’s boys (and girls). The bike-commuting students are the ones able to show a bit of independence.

    Now be good little boys and girls and do what the principal says! I love it!

  • spike

    As a long term (unfortunately now former) bike rider, having ridden many tens of thousands of miles, you guys are wrong. Bike riding, although a great way to get around, is in any careful analysis, far and away the most dangerous thing that the average person does. The number of friends I know that have gotten in serious or deadly accidents is far too many. I now longer ride much because I find NYC way too dangerous. The problem around NYC and much of eastern NJ is the most roads and drivers suck. The roads are too narrow with chaotic traffic. The solution is to development a network of decent roads, but that isn’t going to happen soon.

    The principal is probably right. Do any of you know the road he mentions as too dangerous?

  • spike

    First Car Crash killed a cyclist. The first automobile crash in the United States occurred in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist. (1)

  • spike

    Child cyclists killed. Cyclists under age 16 accounted for 24% of all cyclists killed in 2002. (Insurance Institute for Highway Saftey) Cyclists under 16 were 33% of all cyclists killed and 45% of those injured in traffic crashes in 1996.

    One in every 20 bicyclists is injured annually.(Bicycling Magazine 1987)

    A bicyclist can expect a minor injury every three years and a more serious one every fifteen. (Bicycle Forum 1978)

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Look at my comment in #23. It’s a tertiary road with many other roads better serving through traffic. It could use a shoulder or even better, a bicycle lane to better improve bicycle safety. Plus I like what one of the students points out above, about traffic being at a total standstill when they get out. I often find gridlock to be very safe to bike through as long as there is enough room to get by without a dooring.

    Also I wanted to note that it is very unfortunate that their bike club has been prevented from riding since some of the best cycling roads in New Jersey, if not even the entire country, start literally just down the street from this school. Many have low traffic volumes and have fantastic scenery and in this case, the smaller the better.

  • Steve Caputo ’71

    The principal suffers from the same short-sightedness as most government bureaucrats about the environment. He should be using this issue to start a dialogue about the many ways that the school community can address the long term environmental needs of this planet so that the students are motivated to live their lives Green. When Chip Collier and I organized the first Earth Day at BRHS-West in 1970 the principal embraced our attempt to take responsibility for the environment. To the students I say, “Great job.” Use this issue as a springboard into discussing other ways that the school community can promote environmental awareness. Be proactive and show the “grown-ups” that you want a better outcome for the planet than what previous generations have left you.

  • Atbman

    I really dont understand this virulent criticism of the Prinicpal.

    I was looking on a Danish site a few weeks ago and could not believe how primitive the Danes were. Nearly 50% of one high school’s students were forced to ride there. Most of the rest either walked or went by public transport. Only the fortunate handful were dropped off by their parents. Typical repression by a socialist (read commie) governed country

    They should be ashamed of themselves. As usual the good ol’ US of A is showing the way to the rest of the world – look how many Americans don’t even need an airbag. Carrying around, as they do, ample reserves of impact-resistant material built in to their persons, they don’t need to have some bag exploding in their faces. Instead, the steering wheel is enveloped in yielding subcutaneous tissue designed to protect and preserve the fragile internal organs and muscles inside.

    I feel the Homeland Security services should investigate the students proposing this absurd scheme for their un-American, subversive, eco-terrorist tendencies. And the school head should be given a civic award for his forward-thinking concern for his students’ safety and well-being.

  • Hey Spike (#35-37), I think your statistics are off. More kids are injured bicycling because kids bicycle more. NYC DOH survey data for eight years taken from NYC high school students’ found that 68% to 73% of them stated that they had bicycled at least once in the preceding 12 months 10-year survey of bicyclist injuries and fatalities, at p.5. I don’t have a source for the adult population, but I can’t believe it is as high.

    The same report indicates that population adjusted bicycling deaths in NYC among kids 14 and younger during the ten years ending 2005 were lower than those among any other age category except seniors, which had marginally lower rates. Report at p.9. Bicyclists aged 15 through 24 had the third highest rate of fatalities, behind bicyclists aged 45-54 and 55-64. If you look at the bar graph on page 14, it is clear that bicyclist deaths for age group under 18 is nowhere near 1/3 or even 1/4 of the total bicyclists deaths, the figures that you are citing.

    As for the more general statistics you cite from the 1980s and ’70s, about the frequency of injuries among bicyclists, I’ve never seen very good data on that because there is not very good data on the number of bicyclists, and it is almost never adjusted for the number of miles traveled. However the figures you cite of a serious injury every 15 years strike me as high. So I’ve decided to get out the back of my envelope and ply my skills as amateur epidemiologist. (Charlie K. or anyone else feel free to jump in and tell me if I’m off on this or if the calculation has already been done in a professional way elsewhere!)

    1. Total Bicycling Injuries and Deaths in NYC. The report mentioned above found approximately 3,645 bicyclist fatalities or serious injuries in NYC over the eight-year period ending 2003 (3,462 injuries [p.2] + (225-42 deaths [p.2, p.8] = 3645 deaths & injuries).

    2. Total Number of Annual Bicycling Trips in NYC The 1993 NYC Bicycling Blueprint estimated that there were 75,000 bicyclists each day in NYC, on average. 112,000 is a commonly cited figure for NYC’s average daily bicyclist population in 2004. Averaging the figures, you get 93,750 daily bicyclists in each year 1996-2003 in NYC, or a minimum of 273,750,000 bicycle trips for the 8 year period 93,750 X 365 days/year X 8 years, assuming that each bicyclist makes only one trip per day).

    3. Risk of Serious Injury/Fatality For Each NYC Bicyclist. Dividing 273,750,000 bicycle trips by the 3,645 fatalities and serious injuries during the same period, you get one death or serious injury every 79,000 trips or so. Assuming a bicycling lifespan of 60 years (age 10 through 70), marked by true “everyday” bicycling 365 days a year, the risk of death or serious injury during bicycling in NYC is 1:3.6, or about 27% over an entire lifetime, or a .45% chance of getting seriously injured or killed in a year.

    4. Bicycle Commuters to Manhattan Only. There is more reliable data for the number of bicycle commuter trips into Manhattan’s Central Business District The DoT does annual “screenline counts” indicating that during the eight year period 1996-2003, approximately 12,800 bicyclists entered the NYC CBD each weekday, meaning about 49,152,000 commuter tips (12,800 X 2 trips per day X 5 days/week X 48 weeks a year X 8 years). Dividing those 49,152,000 trips the 3,645 fatalities and serious injuries during the same period indicates that even if all deaths and injuries were confined to commuters (an implausible assumption–recreational and commercial bicycling accounts for a significant share of serious injuries and deaths), you’d have one death or serious injury every 13,484 commuting trips, or once every 28 years. Half the risk indicated by Spike’s “once every 15 years” statistic from 1978.

    I do wish someone would analyze these data in an authoritative and professional way, because so many people are afraid to bicycle in the city due to misbegotten fears that it is so dangerous based on crap statistics like the ones spike is throwing around. What we really need is a comparison of relative risk of death or serious injury for bicycling vs. motoring adjusted for miles traveled.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (What we really need is a comparison of relative risk of death or serious injury for bicycling vs. motoring adjusted for miles traveled.)

    Or the risk of not getting exercise. I do worry about the risk of an accident, because I’m probably not as safe on a bike as I am in a car at this point.

    But obesity, and poor conditioning, is a greater threat. There is no way someone like me can get as much exercise some other way as I do biking to work. There is not enough time.

  • john deere

    Comment by James (#19) or so explains why suburban school boards often rip out bike racks and discourage cycling to school: they are afraid of getting sued. I’ve done some work in NY & NJ suburban counties on Safe Routes to School, and the fear of lawsuits has quite an impact.

    But this only illustrates the double standards by which the dangers of driving & cycling are judged, and the dangers of cycling are always exaggerated (read Ken Kifer’s outstanding essay on the subject).

    Litigation is always a possibility, but the threat of litigation is often used to kibosh new ideas, or different ways of doing things. The NJ attorney general’s office wrote a legal brief saying that schools could be sued for a child’s death or injury incurred while biking to or from school, because merely having a bike rack meant the school was “encouraging” that child to do something dangerous.

    However, no one goes around claiming that, by putting in a student parking lot, school districts could get sued by encouraging teens to drive, even though teens lead the way in auto crashes (the same IIHS which Spike #37 cites says that teens have 4x the crash rate of older drivers). It because driving is regarded as “normal” and even “safe” while cycling is not.

  • Rich Wilson

    Spike is also wrong on “First Car Crash killed a cyclist.”

    It was Memorial day, 1896. The cyclist, Miss Thompson, suffered a fractured leg. Not that it matters, but the accident was caused by the ‘car’ (i.e. horseless carriage) driver losing control and zig-zagging up the street.

    All well documented in “Bicycling and the Law” by Bob Mionske, JD

    IMO a ‘must read’ for any cyclist who shares the road with cars.

  • jason smith

    The Earth doesn’t have enough problems with anti-environmental president…these students have the most vested interest in our future…older Americans, by and large, don’t care in my neck of the woods, they won’t be around unable to even go outside..where I live, people drive SUVs one block to school and there is no major road to cross…multiply this bush type knee-jerk attitude times a million, and then triple it for China and see what you come up with!!!! Bikes can legally go into regular lanes just like cars..if there is congestion, stop driving the SUVs!!!! San Francisco has frequent unannounced bike rallies around the city…my city just had a “long term” visioning for putting in new road and decided to not promote dedicated bike lanes, it is backwards and will be until bush is out….we have no fed leadership….

  • Yes John (#43), litigation risk is far too often used an excuse to avoid change. Many NYC private schools put out a bicycle rack or two, and you’d think private schools would be more concerned about and responsive to the litigation risk than public schools (fewer constituencies to respond to, none of the legal obstacles to suing a public entity, higher average income and presumably greater prevalence of motoring to school).

    Even the New York City public school system seems to have overcome the fear of litigation, having installed City Racks directly in front of public elementary schools. DoT is even distributing cycling maps directly to NYC schools, to foster increased bicycling.

    There’s simply no basis for this suburban principal to hide behind litigation risk. Whether minors use bicycles for transportation or not is primarily their parents’ responsibility, and secondarily their own responsibility. The risk that the school would be held liable based on its supposed tertiary role in encouraging bicycling is so remote it is laughable.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Nonetheless, there is poltical risk as well as litigation risk.

    Imagine if the city were to actively seek to have middle schoolers ride to school, and made an all out push to make it possible — free, simple bicycles, racks at home and school, etc. Sooner or later one of them would be killed in an auto accident, and at that point the benefits would not matter politically, just that one death.

    I wonder if it is possible to tally up all the children killed and injured while driving or being driven to school?

  • Larry, according my survey of the reports on the ~ 170 Safe routes to Schools “priority” schools, there was one child seriously injured in Staten Island while bicycling to school (I did not review the Bronx reports). The sad truth is that kids get killed or seriously injured by cars all the time–browse the discontinued “weekly carnage” reports here on SB–and I don’t recall any politicans taking “heat” for those tragic events at all. Indeed, when two boys were killed on Third Avenue in Brooklyn in 2004 when walking home from school, the pols promised safety improvements but they never materialized. Then another 4-year old was killed in the same spot. Can you tell me one politician who suffered for that?

    I know you do not intend to foster or excuse inaction, Larry, but the poitician’s excuse that s/he cannot encourage bicycling to school because of the political fallout is demonstrably false (or true in the same meaningless sense that virtually any policy change might come back to haunt the policymaker). We should demand more from our representatives.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The sad truth is that kids get killed or seriously injured by cars all the time–browse the discontinued “weekly carnage” reports here on SB–and I don’t recall any politicans taking “heat” for those tragic events at all.)

    Right, because today’s politicians didn’t make decisions to create the conditions that led to those automobile deaths. They made non-decisions to not prevent those deaths.

    Now contrast the furor over a few million in phony pork line items in the City Council budget with the boredom with the fact that “due to circumstances beyond our control” the state and MTA are basically bankrupt.

    That’s why politicians like to make deals in the dark, and non-decisions to lock in existing benefits. If the politicians are “dismayed” about the CP backlash, it is because they are not used to being criticized, or even noticed, for their non-decisions.

  • FormerNYer

    Bless these kids for standing up for what they think is right. This situation in itself is a fantastic civics lesson. I can appreciate both sides of the position but the reality is that providing bicycle parking spaces is probably no more litigous than providing car parking spaces. Is the school/district worried about the parents of students who drive suing them if they get in an accident driving to school? Probably not so much. Yet there is obviously parking provided which encourages them to drive. Let’s all relax and maybe this will lead to some bigger picture improvements like paved shoulders, contiguous sidewalks (including from the street to the school’s front door, which appear to be missing in the photo), and putting that bike rack in question right up by the front door of the school where it belongs. And as a bike rider since I was a kid and a long-standing commuter (15 years+) with well over 100,000 miles on my bike I just retired, I have only been in three accidents with cars (none serious and two of which were road rage) and know no one who has been killed riding there bike (and I know a LOT of bicyclists). But I do know several people killed in auto/auto crashes including an uncle and my father-in-law and have had several people seriously injured (sister, former coach, three cousins, sister-in-law). So maybe we need to rethink all those cars and car parking lots!


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