One of the things that always gives me some hope that our civilization hasn’t completely lost it’s way, is watching the “Bike It! Walk It!” Day event grow and develop in recent years. The next Bike It Walk It is next week, on either October 3rd or 5th (more details below). For those not familiar with the event, getting to school by foot, bike (or occasional skateboard or scooter) is promoted in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, with accompanying perks including snacks, drink and additional bike parking.
“Bike It! Walk It!” began as a student led volunteer effort at Santa Monica High School (Samohi) by the student group know as the Samohi Solar Alliance (SSA). The event expanded to other schools in the district with new Safe Routes to School funding. The growing rates of participation are quite impressive, accounting for as many as 12,000 trips and 30% of district students getting to school by active transportation throughout the district, with higher numbers often reported at Samohi. These numbers are especially impressive in light of the utterly depressing decline of walking and biking to school generally in the United States, and the health consequences that have accompanied less physical activity and autonomy in children.
One component of the Bike It Walk It program is that it includes voluntary safety instruction courses taught by Santa Monica based League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors (LCI), led by LCI and planner Alison Kendall. Finding local certified instructors was a rarity a few years ago, but we now have quite a few practicing in Santa Monica, allowing courses to occur more often and offer more individual attention (my wife Meghan Kavanagh being one of the newer local LCI’s). This past weekend a course was taught at Lincoln Middle School, and next Saturday another class will be offered at John Adams Middle School (more details here).
The infrastructure for getting around in Santa Monica has improved and will continue to do so, but it’s far from the very children friendly facilities found in world class cycling cities, so traffic safety instruction takes on an especially critical importance. I wish we could be putting more parents into educational classes. Some of the most terrifying drivers presenting a hazard to our youth’s safety are parents in the mad dash to drop off kids: Swarming school campuses with over-sized and overpowered vehicles, blocking bike lanes along school routes by double parking, stopping in the middle of the street to unload, cutting each other off in all the rush.
Unfortunately, the police don’t even seem to care really, having resigned that “parents will be parents”. Double parking in bike lanes is typically given a free pass. This phenomena is regularly observed by my wife Meghan who attends Santa Monica College, across from the John Adams Middle School Campus on Pearl Street. When living a block away from the Samohi campus, I witnessed first hand parents guilty of just about every incarnation of reckless driving one can imagine on weekday mornings. So parents, or anyone else driving for that matter, please chill out, put the phones down, and don’t obstruct bike lanes.
Also, if you are a parent terrified to allow your child to ride a bike or walk to school, and insist on driving them to school as a precaution, remember that more children are killed inside vehicles than outside of them. Cars simply represent an inherent safety risk to children even when they are in the metal protection of being inside one. Even the mighty SUV, due to the fact they are more prone to roll overs in collisions than other vehicle types, represent a serious risk to child occupants, who are far more likely to suffer head injury in a rollover crash. We’re not going to make kids any safer through a vehicular arms race, we have to tame traffic around schools through better design, education and enforcement.
I also recommend parents sign up for one of the adult bicycling education classes offered through Sustainable Streets. Whether you intend to ride the streets by bike yourself or not, it gives a valuable perspective you just can’t understand from behind the windshield, and will almost certainly make you a safer driver. And even if you think you know everything about riding a bike, a lot of defensive techniques are discussed that are sometimes new to even long time riders.
Eventually everyday should be a bike or walk to school day, but big culture shifts have to start somewhere, and Bike It! Walk It! day is a promising step in the right direction. My thanks to the numerous people involved that make this event possible, you give me hope for the future.
Next Bike It! Walk It! Events
Sep 29th 12:30 pm: Free bike education workshop at John Adams Middle School
Oct. 3: Bike It! Walk It! Day at SMMUSD schools including Lincoln Middle School, Roosevelt Elementary School, McKinley Elementary School, John Muir Elementary/Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) and Santa Monica High School.
Oct. 5: Bike It! Walk It! Day at Will Rogers Learning Community, Edison Language Academy, Grant Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Juan Cabrillo Elementary, Point Dume Science School, John Adams Middle School, and Malibu High School, will participate on.