Fighting for the Right to Bike to School

A couple of stories we’ve linked from headlines this week point to the continuation of a disturbing trend: families whose parents are questioned, criticized and even intimidated for encouraging their kids to bike or walk to school. 

marino.jpgAdam Marino: middle-schooler; revolutionary.

In Saratoga Springs, reports The Saratogian, controversy has erupted over the Marino family’s desire to let son Adam ride his bike to Maple Avenue Middle School. Before the first day of classes last week, officials actually placed calls telling parents not to permit kids to bike or walk. The Marinos, regular bike riders, defied the "rule" — school officials can’t dictate how kids get to school any more than they can tell parents which make of car to drive. They were greeted outside by school personnel and a New York state trooper.

They were informed that they were "out of compliance," and had a lengthy discussion over where Adam’s bike could be locked.

"I
was extremely bothered," Kaddo Marino said, "after reviewing the way we
were met at the school. It was very intimidating to be met by these
three men, one of whom was a trooper."

The Marinos aren’t alone. A recent New York Times back-to-school piece profiles similar cases in which parents who permit their kids to walk and bike are met with raised eyebrows, or worse. One mother in Mississippi was threatened with a child endangerment charge for letting her 10-year-old walk a mile to soccer practice after passersby saw the boy and called 911. Another in Vancouver, British Columbia, was left waiting and worrying for her first grader after school officials prevented him from walking himself home — a distance of six houses.

Issues of liability and fears of abductions are often raised to explain the resistance to a practice that was commonplace 40 years ago, when 41 percent of American kids walked or biked to school. But the facts, as cited by the Times, don’t support the paranoia. While about 115 children are abducted by strangers each year, some 250,000 are injured in car crashes. Many parents get this, and some are wondering: If schools and districts are so obsessed with the responsibilities entailed by enabling students to bike or walk, why aren’t they more concerned about having kids arrive in — much less driving their own — cars?

The most obvious answer: car culture. While some communities mentioned in these stories are, and should be, concerned over street safety (advocates in Saratoga Springs, for instance, are rallying around the Marinos), the response in most cases has not been to make improvements, but to castigate families who want their kids to navigate the world outside the confines of a motor vehicle. This reaction — to escalate the simple act of a child riding a bike to the level of civil disobedience — can only make sense in an environment where it’s considered normal to shuttle the kids by car down the driveway to meet the school bus.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    This is all very disturbing. I used to walk 2 miles to school with sometimes four or five books and notepads – I didn’t even have a bookbag! There were days where I got cramps and numbness walking to school with that load of books, yeah crazy…my mom would have been arrested today for putting my arm in danger or some such made up stuff. I walked in the rain, the snow, whatever….not every single day, but the majority of days.

    I recently visited my old high school where I was shocked to find out a development had been built on the hill not more than 1/4 mile or so from the school. However, a fence was erected between the school and houses, so that if you wanted to walk from one of those houses to school you now have to walk well over a mile to get there. Ludicrous.

  • It gets even weirder if you consider that 50% of the working population commutes five miles or less to work.

    For those skeptical to this statistic, it’s the same in other countries.
    BBC: Mobile phones expose human habits

  • Windshield perspective gone berserk.

  • Diana Fingal

    I remember begging my mom to let me walk to kindergarten by myself. This was in 1970 and it was more than a mile from home along a really busy street. She let me go but told me if I walked there, I’d have to walk home too. I did and lived to tell about it. Yes, my mom would be arrested for that today. I am thankful I developed good habits and am still riding my bike to work.
    It is so disturbing to see the paranoia, especially when the statistics don’t support the alarm.

  • Andy

    I wonder why they think cars are a better option. I guess every thinks they are an above average driver with an above average safe car. If it’s got airbags and seatbelts it must be safer than biking right? But it’s not and there’s statistics to prove it.

  • Omri

    Part of the problem is that building a school is expensive, and the cheapest option for any small city or suburb is a vacant lot on the edge of town on the side of an arterial, with a design from the templates that Jim Kunstler publishes on his site. (Easiest for acquiring the land, easiest for construction logistics, et cetera.)

    And then it does get more dangerous to walk or bike there.

  • …Meanwhile, the collective health of our ascending generations becomes ever more grim, and ever more expensive. I feel about as good subsidizing care for early onset diabetes and asthma as I do seeing my tax dollars fund new highways. Clarence has it right: ludicrous. .

    Hey, has anyone checked Kunstler on this one? As a Saratogan, I feel like he would be all over this.

  • You all do realize that the most dangerous part of the journey to school is between that car door (of the parents dropping off their kids) and the school house door.

    In most places, the mile walk Johnny takes to school is statistically safer then the last 100 yards!

  • Chris

    In Chicago, the city’s Bike 2015 Plan includes as an objective the establishment of bikeways to schools (http://www.bike2015plan.org/chapter1/chap1_obj4.html), so maybe there is hope.

  • Getting involved with Safe Routes to School can really help work through these problems. There are folks in all corners of the country advocating for safe walking, biking and strategic placement of schools to do just that. If you are in New York, we’d love for you to help us get schools moving by participating in “We’re Walking Here NYC” in honor of walk and bike to school day on October 7th. Check it out ((www.walkingschools.org))

  • Jim Mearkle

    Coincidentally, the Transportation Research Board’s weekly newsletter had this in it today:

    School Bicycling and Walking Policies:
    Addressing Policies that Hinder and Implementing Policies that Help

    http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/media/file/barrier_policy_tip_sheet.pdf

    I think Yehuda Moon said it best:

    http://www.yehudamoon.com/index.php?date=2008-04-29

  • vnm

    Not . . . in . . . car . . .

    cannot . . . understand . . .

  • I guess they could rewrite the song “Harper Valley PTA” around the fight to allow bikes to school. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOZPBUu7Fro

  • I don’t know about US law, but here in the province of British Columbia, the school is actually responsible for students after they leave their own property until they get back on it after school ends. This doesn’t justify these insane policies, however.

  • CKM

    At the same time, kids are obese and schools are trying to force them to do more exercise….

  • I grew up in NYC and starting in about second grade, I walked the 4 blocks to school every day alone or with other kids. This was across three busy avenues: Amsterdam, Broadway and West End. Starting at age 12 I took two city buses each way across Manhattan to Jr. High. I always marveled at my suburban cousins who had to be driven everywhere by their parents.

  • Heather

    This is getting ridiculous, first they complain the kids are getting fat, they ban healthy food by resricting all sorts of food products….

    My sons school doesn’t allow any nut products of any kind. No seeds or highly alergenic foods. So forget sending whole grain bread because they often have seeds on them, no raw almonds, no sunflower seeds, no pumkin seeds , watch the salad dressing because if it has seeds or soy in it it is banned. No citrus fruits, no tuna salad.

    … so they tell them they have to excersize more but then ban walkign to school or biing to school. Yeah that makes sense.

  • Merijn

    All the way from the Netherlands, Europe, where cycling is ubiquitous. Here there are annual campaigns to keep the Dutch cycling. I wish you all the cycling best in NY state.
    This is how it looks like here:
    http://images.google.com/images?oe=UTF-8&sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=fiets%20naar%20school&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi

  • Randy

    If the Marinos are using Highway 9 as much as possible from their house, their route to school is 3.3 miles. A simple analysis of the route using Google Maps shows that they could use a route on side streets, avoiding Highway 9 except for the last 100 yards, and their route would be only 2.9 miles. Perhaps avoiding the “dreaded” Highway 9 might help satisfy the timid school board or person(s) responsible for this rather absurd policy (no walking???).

    Here’s the new route (from the nearest intersection): http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=43.073214,-73.776004&daddr=Nelson+Ave+to:East+Ave+to:East+Ave+to:Maple+Ave%2FUS-9&geocode=%3BFRROkQIdgESa-w%3BFcl-kQId5lCa-w%3BFcWMkQId4DOa-w%3BFSy9kQId5lKa-w&hl=en&mra=dme&mrcr=0&mrsp=0&sz=17&via=1,2,3&sll=43.072799,-73.77491&sspn=0.003973,0.006899&ie=UTF8&z=17

  • I went to college in Saratoga Springs.

    Randy, click over to terrain view. Notice East Ave is a steep steep hill.

    Then Streetview the north end of North Broadway.

    That isn’t a road, certainly not a public road. It dead-ends at Skidmore College, and they own the cow path heading north from there. Yes, you can probably mountainbike through there. It’s not commuteable daily.

    State Route 9 is a New York State designated bike route. Bikes are to ride in the very wide gutter, or with traffic. It’s totally ok, this family is doing the right thing.

    Apropos of little: Saratoga Springs PD were the folks who began my metamorphosis from a generally police-respecting citizen into someone who thinks they belong up against the wall. They’re pretty awful as smalltown cops go.

  • mcas

    @Corey Bureger: So, let me get this straight– you are saying that in Vancouver, if a parent kills their kid in their car crash, it is the responsibility of the school?

  • I know Adam he is my neighbor GO ADAM AND FAMILY and for everyone out there fighting for this cause YOU ARE AWESOME

  • Stovallgarrett

    diabetic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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