Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Safe Routes to School

Another response to Kelley, who was concerned about getting her children to and from school safely:

As you've already noted, drivers exceed the speed limit regardless of their proximity to schools, and it's simply not possible for police departments to provide enough officers to enforce the laws. I live in Owasso. Fifteen years ago, there were rarely more than 3 patrol cars on duty at any time. I think they may have 6 or 8 on patrol now, and we have 12 schools. The PD just can't cover every school every day, though to their credit, they do a good job when a problem is reported. When a speeding problem is identified, they'll put extra patrols on that area for a time. Traffic gets 'calmed' but the effect is temporary.

Traditionally, we've relied on a triangle of ideas that support cycling and cyclists: enforcement, education, and engineering. Like most citizens, I prefer proactive police work that mitigates or eliminates problems while they're small, rather than waiting for the other approach, an officer showing up to take a report after something bad has already happened.

Most but not all of the local elementary schools are in residential areas served with neighborhood streets having 25mph speed limits. Most parents won't let their kids ride bicycles to school on these streets because others are simply driving too fast. The kids who do ride stay on sidewalks. Honestly, I can't understand the compulsion to drive fast through a neighborhood when children are going to and from school, and I particularly do not understand why people feel their need to get their own kids to school on time somehow justifies putting someone else's kids at risk. But that's a rant for another time.

I'll return to sidewalk riding in a moment, but first I'd like to talk about bicycling education. Most of our BikeEd focuses on adults riding on the road. There's a good reason for this. John Forester pointed out that most grade school children (most, but not all) don't have the judgment skills necessary to ride unsupervised on the road with traffic. Given my own experiences riding with children, I'd have to agree. But your son is in that 12-13 year old range where he could begin learning those skills. I've told kids that their bicycle is the first step to driving a car. It can be an opportunity to learn the rules of the road and some of those critical judgment skills so necessary to a new driver. This assumes a parent is willing to learn the fundamentals of road cycling, and that they're able and willing to spend the time on the road with their kids. It isn't easy. There are those heart-in-your-mouth moments, times of incredible frustration and exasperation, and moments of pure gold.

So bicycling education, then, is primarily focused at the individual level. It would be nice if we could get a curriculum into the public schools, and I believe there is some effort in that direction, but I'm not at all familiar with it, so I hope someone with better information can step in. Teaching BikeEd in the schools would get the information out to a much wider audience, hopefully with a greater impact.

The other side of the triangle is engineering. The goal is to change behavior by providing infrastructure that causes people to act in defined ways. Ideally, we'd have a network of multi-use paths connecting neighborhoods with schools, parks, shopping centers, and retail stores. But we live in a far from ideal world. Given the infill around neighborhood schools, building MUPs is impractical. Providing a bike lane may seem to be a solution, but I'd have reservations about permitting a young child to use one unsupervised. The SRTS material included some information on walking buses and bicycling buses, if I recall right, in which groups of kids travel to school together under adult supervision. This diverges from the facilities and engineering to some extent,because it's relying on a presumably informed adult to shape child behavior, but the necessity of good roads and signalized intersections should be fairly obvious.

None of our triangle's sides can exist independently of the others. None of them alone provide a solution to the problems we face as cyclists and parents of cyclists. Yet when we acknowledge the limitations inherent in both law enforcement and engineering, bicycling education offers a practical approach to dealing with problems, though admittedly it's at the individual level rather than societal.

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Blogger chelle said...

hmmm....sounds that bikeEd was a good idea..very informative details... young children will have advantage of it especially during learning processes since they maybe instructed on traffic rules and a first step to driving a car..its also important that upon owning cars, proper maintenance on car parts should be well considered to avoid unnecessary accidents...just like (ex:saturn engine maintenance)..i had done much inspections asides from driving cautiously.

10:08 PM  
Blogger gazer said...

Regarding driving speeds through residential neighborhoods:

I'd recommend that everyone ensure that they drive at or below the posted speed in their neighborhoods. In doing so, you're setting a good example and slowing down any cars behind you.

Similarly, when on a bike, ride a little bit more to the left. Just a little. Most people I see on the road are riding far too closely to the the gutter and parked cars, or worse weaving between the gutter and the edges of parked cars. If you're near the speed limit, move even farther to the left. Shake your head to people who zoom past you (but nothing more dramatic than that).

Finally, get you and your neighbors out walking (or riding) your streets a lot more. As a pedestrian, you can now rightly yell at speeders to slow down, and the increased likelihood of pedestrians will further slow cars.

Just my 2 cents, though the riding farther to the left bit did come from a BikeEd class I took.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Fritz said...

Good article and comments.

I really need to finish up an article about Longmont Colorado's Safe Routes to School program. The state of Colorado started providing grants for local Safe Routes programs a couple of years ago. Most cities requested millions of dollars for engineering projects for paint and paths.

Longmont (with two LCIs) requested a few thousand dollars for education and promotion and pay for the LCIs and overtime pay for the teachers who took the Road 1 class.

At one elementary school (my son's former school) there was 80% participation; another school there was 90% -- the highest in the nation. In other words, 80 to 90% of children walked or biked to school due to strong support by the local bike advocacy group, participation by the city and school district, and buy-in with parents. It was outstanding.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I'd love to see BikeEd included in school curriculum, as I've said many times previously. But I think we may be moving forward on that. Once I have more information, I'll post it.

And for Gazer, I'll point out that lane positioning is one of the key aspects of Road1. Moving further left in the lane is often counter-intuitive. It seems that you'll make yourself an easier target or be seen as a discourteous 'arrogant' bicyclist. But as I've told students, SAFETY always trumps COURTESY. Riding further to the left forces motorists to pass when it's safe, not when they think they can squeeze by.

7:28 PM  

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