Bike Bans: A Serious Threat to Safe Routes to School

biketoschool.jpgBanned in NJ: Many Jersey towns don’t allow kids to bike to school. Photo: Voorhees Transportation Center Image Library, Leigh Ann Von Hagen.

This May, a bill surfaced in the U.S. Senate that would triple federal funding for Safe Routes to School programs. Livable Streets Community activists have been on the case this week, mobilizing support for the measure. In many communities, however, local policies also have to change to help kids get to school by walking or biking.

Leigh Ann Von Hagen — a planner at Rutgers’ NJ Safe Routes to School Resource Center — writes about the uphill battle New Jersey advocates are fighting in school districts where students have actually been banned from biking:

Banning bicycling to school is way too common throughout our state. We are in the planning stages of conducting a statewide survey to find out how often bicycling is banned. We are also developing a model policy for walking and bicycling to school. It is true that teenage driving is significantly more dangerous than students bicycling when you look at crash statistics. Yet, no schools consider banning teenage drivers.

Schools often use liability concerns to get out of taking account of
walking and bicycling to school conditions. A good Safe Routes to School Travel Plan would help with liability issues.

Hagen brought the bike ban to the attention of activists in the Collingswood Streets group, who promptly got going on a campaign to convince the local school board to overturn the ban.

Also this week: Out west, the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition is calling for suggestions on where to conduct LA’s first-ever bike and pedestrian count. And in NYC, we’re pleased to welcome Harlem & Hamilton Heights Livable Streets and to see the resurgence of Bike Hoboken and the Brooklyn Bridge Cycle Track Advocates.

  • I would like to say, I’m sure PLENTY of schools have considered how awesome it would be if they banned teenagers from driving to school.

    At the public boarding school I attended for 11th and 12th grade, The North Carolina School of Science and Math, cars were prohibited except on prom night. If we wanted to drive anywhere, we had to be signed out of campus.

  • Not to mention: encouraging students to bike or walk to school would help better their health.

  • Rich Wilson

    This has come up on Freerange Kids. http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/free-range-kids-outrage-of-the-week-no-biking-to-school/

    This is in WA state, but one of the comments has a pretty extreme example from NJ. What most of us are baffled by is how a school can ban kids from riding to school EVEN WITH THEIR PARENTS! I thought this was the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave?

  • Schools often use liability concerns to get out of taking account of walking and bicycling to school conditions.

    Presumably, schools have some kind of liability insurance, and are afraid of seeing their premiums go up. Has anyone been looking at this angle?

  • Ian Turner

    Cap’n, I wouldn’t assume that public schools have liability insurance, as the taxpayer can always be left on the hook for any torts. Furthermore, as has been noted above, cycling to school is much safer than driving, so it’s not clear why an actuary would lower the premium for banning cycling.

  • There is also the problem with street designs themselves. Current new subdivisions discourages walking and bicycling. There is a lack of sidewalks, which means that kids have to walk on unsafe roads. Cul-de-sacs, circular roads and dead-end roads, add unneeded distance. One may even have a schoolyard in their own backyard on the other side of a high fence, but to get to the school requires either a 15 minute walk in the opposite direction or a drive to get there.

    The old grid pattern of roads with sidewalks are a better design

  • Hello, I am the facilitator of “Collingswood Streets,” which is mobilizing to overturn the bike ban at our elementary schools. The thing that is most frustrating about the ban is that we are a very walkable community in comparison with most. Collingswood is a first-ring suburb and each elementary school is within walking and biking distance for the kids. I’ve been told from several sources that the ban was instated after a child on a bike was hit by a car. No mention yet about when cars will be banned.

  • How can the school extend their authority beyond the school property? How can they regulate public streets? Just ride your bike to school and lock it outside the school fence. Why is that so hard?

  • If I were in such an area, our kids would bike to school every day. When the school subsequently attempts to shut it down/suspend or whatever recourse, I’d be sure to invite the media and stir things up. This makes me angry to my core.

  • James

    I wrote a Safe Routes grant for the community where I work as a planner and put in money for bike racks. The school district was horrified at the idea and shot it right down. Non-negotiable due to liability fears. There’s gotta be a way to bring the school districts around but I’ve racked my brain over the last year and haven’t been able to figure one out. They are just massively risk-averse and set in their ways.

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Back-to-School Season Brings Bike-to-School Bans

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As schools across the country open their doors for another year, Robert Ping of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership says students are increasingly facing "bans" against walking and biking to campus. Network member BikePortland.org reports: In Portland, fears of liability turned Safe Routes to School to "Safer Routes." Photo: BikePortland.org "It’s pervasive throughout […]