Spokes & Soles // Consider biking or walking to school

If it seems like fewer kids are bicycling or walking to school these days, you are correct! According to Safe Routes to Schools, in 1969 about 50 percent of all children walked or bicycled to school and about 87 percent of kids lived within a mile of their schools. Today, fewer than 15 percent of schoolchildren walk or ride a bike to school.

The net result of this drop-off in school bicycling and walking: many kids today are less active, less independent and less fit than their parents and grandparents were at the same ages years ago. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Working with Safe Routes to School, schools are coming up with cool ways to make it safe and fun to get to school on two wheels or two feet. How? By organizing “walking school buses” or “bike trains.” 

According to walkingschoolbus.org, a walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their kids to school or as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers. A bike train is similar, with a supervised group of students riding bicycles on a pre-arranged route to school. Bicycle trains are best suited for older elementary school children. 

A 2011 report on Safe Routes efforts at Minneapolis Public Schools describes how Lyndale Community School in South Minneapolis created a Walking School Bus. Before Lyndale School launched a walking bus program, parent-leader Scott Borden mapped four routes and did a practice run to make sure enough time was allowed at each stop. The school supported his efforts by creating participation forms and maps. 

In the 2010-11 school year, Minneapolis district staff estimate that students who used the Walking School Bus logged a combined 3,200 miles. The report noted, “The Walking School Buses themselves are a form of advertising, as other parents and students see groups walking through the neighborhood or arriving at school together.”

Here are some tips and guidelines for walking or bicycling to school: 

Walking to class

With a trusted adult, pick a route to and from school or the bus stop, practice it, and always use this route. Choose a route with the fewest street crossings. Avoid crossing busy streets. Walk on sidewalks whenever possible.

Always cross at an intersection — at a corner. You can cross in the middle of a street if there is a painted crosswalk. Only cross where you are able to see both ways down the street.

Never cross between parked cars. By avoiding crossing between parked cars, drivers can see you and avoid hitting you.

Never run out into the street. Don’t assume cars can see you just because you can see them.

Bicycling to school

As with walking to school, plot out the best route and try it out ahead of time. For instance, avoid busy roads when there are quieter routes to the same place.

Invest in a solid used or new bike that’s appropriately fitted to your child’s size. Include a U-shaped bike lock, and a light for the front of his/her bike and a rear reflector (both are required by law). There are many local bike shops that sell refurbished bicycles. 

Make sure your child has a helmet that fits properly. For visibility, your child should wear brightly-colored clothing, or at least fluorescent tape or markings on their clothing and/or backpack.

Follow all the rules of the road. Always observe stop signs (even if no other vehicle is visible), yield signs and other traffic markers. Use extra caution when passing driveways and entrances to businesses and housing developments and when riding in parking lots. Encourage children to walk their bikes across busy intersections. 

Hilary Reeves is the communications director of Bike Walk Twin Cities