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.

  • Komanoff

    Bicycles Only — While I love where you’re coming from, your mathematical exertions are beside the point. The way to evaluate the risk of doing something is to compare it to the risk of not doing it. “Not bicycling” means foregoing the physical-activity benefits of cycling.

    Mayer Hillman (U.K.) plumbed the data ~15 yrs ago and concluded that cycling’s p-a benefits outweighed its crash risks by >10-to-1 even in
    cycling-unfriendly England. Absurdly, his book with these findings is both out-of-print and hard to find on the Internet. I give a brief
    account of it here. Maybe someone can post a direct link?

    Also, B Only, kid cyclists do crash considerably more often than adults. It may also be that they need the p-a benefits of cycling somewhat less than adults. Thus, the risk-ratio reward for kids’ cycling may be (a lot) less than 10-to-1, but I’m confident it’s a good deal more than 1.

    Let’s not get sidetracked, though. Those NJ kids are fantastic. We should be showering them with hosannas and support from legal to financial to moral. I wish I was in a position to spearhead this or even just participate. They’re a miracle.

  • Since John Deere mentioned Ken Kifer, I figured I’d say something about him. I remembered coming across his page and being very impressed with his statistical argument.

    Some of you may know that he was killed by a drunk driver in 2003, at the age of 57. While in my head I know that the larger trends that he measured are more important than individual cases, from an emotional point of view the fact that he himself was in the violent-death category is hard to overlook.

  • spike

    Children riding bicycles on dangerous roads will get killed. If the kids have good routes to ride to school they should ride to school. The road in front of the school is described as a busy tertiary road. If it had a wide shoulder or a bike lane, it might be an OK road to ride on. Unfortunately with the advent of the cell phone, drivers in NJ have become really scary.

    No. 41 estimated a 27% chance of death or serious injury from biking during a life time and estimates the chance of death per year as 0.5%. That seems about right to me and thats a pretty big risk. There are roughly 40000 deaths from car crashes each year or about 1.6% of total deaths. People spend much, much more time on average in cars than on bikes, so on per mile or per minute basis, biking is much more dangerous.

    That said, biking is a blast.

  • spike

    that should have been death over a lifetime of 0.5%.

  • Spike and Charlie, I certainly agree that safety is a greater concern with kids than adults. Roads appropriate for adults may not be appropriate for kids, of course depending on age. Certainly, in the case of high school kids, many of whom are already permitted to drive, I would expect they can handle themselves pretty well.

    Spike, I don’t think for a minute that there is a 0.5% of death or serious injury from bicycling, even over 60 years of everyday commuting, which no one does. A bicyclist on the road that much will be far more experienced and skilled and have a much lower risk of a bad crash than the “hypothetical average” bicyclist I attempted to model in the most crude way. The point of my comment was to show that the statistics you were throwing out showing a much greater risk couldn’t possibly be right. And if I wasn’t clear, I am neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician, so no one should rely on my musings in comment 41, beyond concluding that they prove the “serious injury every 15 years” statistic wrong.

    I’m really just bemoaning the inaccessibility of reliable data about the risks of bicycling (which inaccessiblity Charles to some degree confirmed), given the ubiquitous “popular wisdom” based on junk statistics and worse that bicycling is extremely dangerous. That popular wisdom underlies Riccobono’s unfortunate stance against the kids at his school that wish to bicycle.

  • Jenny Donati

    As a cyclist, I’m appalled.

    As an adult who thinks, I don’t want to respond with a knee-jerk reaction.

    This article tells us nothing about the street in question. Is it particularly dangerous? Is there a bike lane, or even room for one? Is the speed limit in the area 55 MPH instead of 25?

    The principal is saying that they provide bus service for students within walking distance because the street is too dangerous for pedestrians. Is there no sidewalk? (I see one in the photo, but maybe it doesn’t go very far.)

    I’m not defending the principal’s actions, and I think the students did a useful and generous thing. However, there may be circumstances with which we’re not aware . . . and this article (likewise the Star-Ledger source article) doesn’t give us the answers.

  • I read the Principal’s reaction with surprise and dismay. I hope the students are not discouraged.

    Instead, I hope that the Principal turns this into a Covics lesson for students, teaches them how to appeal to City Council, Public Works, and the School Board to work on funding to make the street safer (if that really is the concern).

    I would guess that with some aggressive redesign of the street to include a bike lane, or Sharrows in the right lane, with Police patrol during school commute hours… The safety issues could be addressed, students would learn a lot, and the community could be a positive example instead of an embarassment.

  • Urbanis says:
    | …it makes me wonder if he is receiving
    | some kind of kickback from automakers…

    People fight passionately to justify their irrational expenditures. The principal is just like the average American, and will have spend $4 Million of lifetime savings potential through his $8,000/year cost of car ownership. There is no need for automakers to give kickbacks to people who are spending that kind of money without questioning it.

  • David, I like your $4M statistic on lifetime costs of car ownership. Do you have a link to a cite or a source?

  • Here’s an example of how elementary school motor vehicle drop-offs are mismanaged by city parents. Parents often drop their kids off in the middle of this road, although usually they will pull up to the curb or at least to the side of the road when there is space to do so.

  • Cynthia (Harris) Miller

    I am pleased to see students work as a team to create a reasonable alternative to getting to school. What happens if someone doesn’t have the money for a car? Just think of the exercise these kids are getting…probably a lot more than most in today’s over weight society. Wonder if the PTA could step in and endorse student efforts? In this day and age, transportation alternatives need consideration. Go for it guys/gals…one of your “old” alums.

  • Dave Michaels

    Wait a sec… I went to this school back when it was West. I distinctly remember it having at least one bike rack, I believe near the cafeteria. Did they get rid of them when they remodeled? OMGWTF.

    Before I went to West, I went to Eisenhower (6-8), and then Van Holten before that (K-5). I rode my bike to both schools. Not regularly, but on occasion. Yes, even when I was in 5th grade, I rode a bike to school. Without a helmet. And here I am typing a message about it.

    I think this guy is just overly concerned about legal ramifications if a student gets smacked on Garretson, or within 100 yards of the school grounds. In today’s ridiculously litigious society, I wouldn’t be surprised if the school could be successfully sued for hosting a donated bike rack. So maybe he has ground to stand on, but what I don’t understand is that it’s okay to tether the bike to the chain link fence around the swamp, but it’s not okay to tether the bike to a donated bike rack? WTF is the difference?

    I miss the old days.

  • Mike Student

    This may be a dead subject, but the high school I attended apparentley purchased roughly 3 full city blocks (with inhabited houses) to use as a massive parking lot for staff and juniors/seniors who drive. And here I am, trying to convince my 9 year old daughter to bike 1 mile to school…..

  • This is quite astonishing. Schools over here simply don’t provide for students to drive to school. In fact, our local secondary school looks like this:

    All the children. 100 every day in the summer, dropping to 95% in the winter when some will take a bus instead.

    Secondary school children routinely cycle a 40 km ( 25 mile ) round trip each day to get to school.

  • Smith

    I say park all of your bikes where he parks his polluting car/truck. Chain it to the fence over there in the back lot…that’s where he and the other admins park.

  • Erica

    i go to this school and Garretson road is well organized when school is let out. There is a police man directing traffic right near the intercetion. There is a sidewalk going both directions on either side of the road. In the morning, the traffic is basically at a stand still. I know the principal and i am suprised at his reaction. He really is a nice guy. I think we should have a bike rack in the front because it would decrease the amount of people on the buses and in cars. My bus is so filled we literally have to have four people sitting in a three seater.We need these bike racks. By the way i thought the fee for a parking space was $200.

  • Peter

    Oh, wow. That WOULD have been the school I was going to, if I hadn’t moved. I KNEW that school was stupid.

  • Chain them to his bloody car!


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