Our home in Jefferson sits about two blocks from our town’s only elementary school and because I work from home I often see and hear children pass by on their way to and from the classroom each day. Many are walking because Jefferson is a compact town with lots of sidewalks. Yesterday morning, I saw a young girl in the early grades go by on a bicycle. The temperature was about 20 degrees at the time. She appeared to be perfectly safe and comfortable.
I saw the same sort of thing when we lived in Ogden Utah. In spite of the popular mythology of the day, lots of kids are still walking and biking to school provided the community makes it safe and easy to do so. Jan and I have been actively seeking out this type of community since we left suburban Indianapolis in 2016. We’ve discovered these places have not gone the way of the Dodo bird. They still exist and that’s good. It makes all the difference in the world when it comes to kids biking or walking to school.
In hindsight, I now see clearly that it’s mostly in the suburbs or communities that have built new schools out by the highway where this no longer happens. That worries me a little because Jefferson is talking about building a new high school and they want to put it…you guessed it…out by the highway.
I don’t think this is necessarily intentional. I just think that the people put in charge of such decisions really don’t think about the human impact of what they’ve been asked to decide. If you drive everywhere, you assume that everyone else drives everywhere, too. It’s normal. Riding a bike is odd. If the new school gets built where they want to put it, nobody will walk or bike there. It will be another motorfest. It will be another lost opportunity.
I’m sharing a couple of pictures that came across my Twitter feed this morning. I think they perfectly illustrate the different mindsets when it comes to bicycle safety and school children. The first is from Northern Ireland and it’s pretty clear that folks there think that putting kids on bikes is a good thing, but that it’s also very, very dangerous. I’m sure the message is getting through, too, and not in a good way. These kids are overwhelmingly going to choose cars as a means of self preservation as soon as they have a voice in the matter.
The second is from somewhere else in Europe, a place where grabbing the handlebars instead of the car keys is the most natural thing in the world. Juxtaposed against the other, these two pictures could not possibly provide a more stark contrast. The kids in the second picture don’t have hi-viz safety vests. They don’t even have helmets. It looks like they’re on a sidepath, but if so it’s a sidepath wider than the adjacent road. The looks on their faces say that today is just another day. The kids in the first picture are mugging for the cameras. To them, today is not going to be repeated any time soon.
I find it interesting that so many adults want to protect children from the dangers of motorists just like them, but very few want to protect them from the type of degraded life that comes from living a sedentary lifestyle. One way to change that is to make it natural for kids to bicycle to school. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make that happen. We knew how to do it as far back as the late 1950s. Those methods will still work. I know. I’ve seen them for myself.