In third grade, I started biking to school. I usually rode with my brother, up the hill that seemed so big at the time, winding through the neighborhood, crossing one busy street — with a crossing guard, of course. Along the way we passed other kids’ houses, and in time, many of those other kids became our football teammates and Boy Scout buddies and best friends. There was a bike lane, and a sidewalk paved between two houses, so that it felt like a secret passage when it led us across a small bridge and into the back of the schoolyard. We cyclists were not oddballs our outliers: the school had a long row of bike racks, and some days it was hard to find a spot. There must have been 50 or 100 students biking to that small elementary school everyday.
Thirty years later, I bike to work everyday. And I have biked or walked on my daily commute in nearly all of the intervening years. I still love it, still feel better at the end of my commute than at the beginning. I can still stop by the drugstore or the market along the way, I still bump into friends along the way, and I still build an intimate familiarity with my neighborhood and community by pedaling through it.
But I am a bit of an outlier as the guy who bikes to work everyday. And apparently times have changed for school kids, too, because my daughters’ school has only a couple of bikes on the rack. (My kids walk instead of biking, because we live across the street.) Why don’t kids bike to school as much as they did a generation ago? Crime rates have plummeted, and medical evidence of the fundamental importance of exercise in a healthy lifestyle has mounted. Witness the obesity epidemic.
Fortunately, some good folks around Rochester are working to get kids biking to school again. At least four local elementary schools participated in the national Bike to School Day event on 4 May: French Road Elementary School, Council Rock Primary School, Crane Elementary, and Francis Parker School No. 23. Indian Landing Elementary School will ride on 13 May. Each of the events got dozens of students and parents out for a ride on a sunny May morning, as you can see in the photos below. To allow students who live far from school to participate, most of the events included a group ride from a nearby community center. One ride went from the Rochester Museum and Science Center to School 23; another went from Midtown Athletic Club to Council Rock. Students and parents were welcomed to school with snacks, coffee, and a celebration of bike-enabled community.
Our deep gratitude goes out to all who supported Bike to School Day 2016. Each event was organized by teachers and/or parents, and supported by school administrators. The HealthiKids initiative funded snacks and racks. Schwinn provided ten bikes and helmets, which Council Rock won in a nationwide drawing — woohoo! The Rochester Police Department and Brighton Police Department provided escorts to ensure a safe ride. The Monroe County Office of Traffic Safety provided helmets and taught bike safety. The Injury Free Coalition for Kids provided helmets and information. The RMSC and Midtown Athletic Club generously shared their parking lots. PTOs and PTAs provided funding and moral support. Thanks to all who made Bike to School Day possible!
Update: Indian Landing had a great ride on 13 May! Thanks go to Dr. Thomas Putnam, Penfield CSD Superintendent; Mrs. Bavis, Principal of Indian Landing; Monica Wallen and Linda Guiberson of the PTO, and Jeff Hopper. We’ve added photos below.
Want to organize Bike to School Day at your own school? Great! The national program provides lots of free materials for getting organized and for promoting the event. And those of us who have run events at other schools around Rochester would be happy to consult, too — send us an email. How about an ROC-wide Bike to School Day in 2017?! If you’re interested, contact us.