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

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 reports:

229710.jpgIn Portland, fears of liability turned Safe Routes to School to "Safer Routes." Photo:

"It’s pervasive throughout the country and we’re hearing about it more
and more,” [Ping] said. The problem, according to Ping, is that many school
principals and administrators feel that biking and walking to school is
simply unsafe. They are concerned about being held liable for anything
that happens during the trip to and/or from school.

In addition to studying the current scope of the problem, the Safe
Routes National Partnership is putting together a team of legal experts
who will craft a legal statement directed at school principals,
outlining why improving biking and walking options will not increase
their liability exposure. They hope the legal statement will also help
allay the fears that lead to bike ban policies in the first place.

Though, as Ping points out, principals can’t actually stop students from walking and biking, they can use their influence to discourage it. Administrators can also deny students a decent place to store their bikes during the school day. But if the issue is safety and liability, what about those high school parking lots?

Ping said one safe routes advocate he heard from countered a bike ban
in their community by asking the principal whether or not he felt
liable for kids who drive to school. “That’s a great way to push back
on this idea.”

In a somewhat related post featured on the Network today, Car Free With Kids sings the praises of raising a toddler on transit. Also: The Overhead Wire notes light rail progress in Houston, while Streetsblog LA finds controversy over one Metro rail line; Gateway Streets maps "desire paths" in St. Louis’s Forest Park; and NY Examiner analyzes another case of motorist-on-cyclist violence, this time in Staten Island.

  • It would be nice if there were some reported numbers attached to this alert. Right now, this seems kind of apocryphal, like New York City’s epidemic of cyclist-on-pedestrian injuries.

  • Are they nuts? The most dangerous place you can put a child is a car.

  • I wish I could delete that last message. The web sites I linked to are kinda pointless. They show how many kids die due to traffic, but don’t include any breakdown of numbers for walking, cycling or being a car passenger. I stand by “Are they nuts?” though…

  • The walking ban is as shocking to me as the biking ban. My family has home movie footage of my Mom walking me to kindergarten. By the end of the school year, I was making the trip myself. My walk to high school was 45 minutes each way and I did it without complaint. No walking, no biking — what a terrible message to implant in impressionable minds.

  • If the schools are that concerned with the safety of their students then maybe they could only allow students with an “Educated Cyclist” sticker to ride to school. And how do students get such a sticker? Well, our schools are still in the education business, right? I can think of nothing more important than teaching kids how to safely get to and from school. And I’m sure there are numerous organizations that would help schools run a cycling education program.

  • Streetsman

    “They are concerned about being held liable for anything that happens during the trip to and/or from school.”

    There is a misconception that if one feels they are liable for potential damages caused by someone’s actions, then they must prohibit those actions in order to reduce exposure. Having worked with many lawyers I can tell you you can still limit your exposure simply by demonstrating an effort to prevent the damages. For example, the principal of school could issue a notice or have a one-day course about walking and cycling safely – then they would have their butts covered if anything happened, without going so far as to ban walking, which it is agreed is preposterous.

    Have our lives really become so auto-oriented that we are now required to use them for fear of the alternative? Reminds me of Jerry’ Seinfeld’s rant about people who stand on the people movers in airport terminals: “The other people I hate are the people that get onto the moving walkway and the just stand there. Like it’s a ride. “Excuse me. There’s no animated pirates or bears along the way here. DO YOUR LEGS WORK AT ALL?!!”

  • Why don’t they just have an “Exercise Ban?”

    Hall Monitor

  • In the UK they have a govt supported group trying to encourage walking, cycling to school: -my 7 year olds school had a walk week where you get a sticker every day you walk (or cycle) in, the staff encouraged it. Even for those people who drove a distance, the school tried to make you park further away and walk in.

    While it may seem ironic to have a single week a year where everyone walks in -compared to my own youth, 30 years ago- at least they are trying.

    When I cycle in, the hazard spots are near the schools, so the less people driving to school, the safer the pedestrians and bikes are. This is what the schools should be encouraging. Car-free zones near the school, for safer walking and cycling.

  • This is just so backwards.

  • Bryant Turnage

    Yet these same schools will almost certainly include curriculum that teaches their students about our impact on the environment and the causes of global warming. They’ll encourage the kids to go home and make sure their parents recycle and don’t leave the tap running while they brush their teeth. If funding hasn’t been cut, they’ll even be taught the importance of healthy eating habits and exercise for their long-term health. Yet some school systems will encourage the children to abandon healthy and generally safe habits like walking or biking to school, instead insisting they ride buses or, more likely, have mom or dad drive them in a two-ton, carbon-spewing death machine. This country never ceases to amaze me.

  • CF

    This is so sad. In the next 10 years: “You can only bring your children to school in a Humvee. Only 1 child per vehicle, to prevent molestation”.

    ”The M1A1 Abrams tank is an acceptable alternative.”

    “Cars are simply not safe.”

  • The Opoponax

    You joke, CF, but I know parents that chose to upgrade to an SUV when they had kids because “it’s safer that way”.

    I also know quite a few people who don’t think a compact car is sufficient to carry out most of the functions of a motor vehicle, such as carrying passengers or driving on the interstate.

  • Saratogaguy

    Saratoga Springs NY school district has a ban agains middle school students walking or biking to school.

    they cite the risk of injury to the children…. It is hard to quantify the risk to childern become obese, or develop diabetes because of a a lifetime of inactivity



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