Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back To School - Why Can't Johnny Ride?

It's back-to-school time and all the shiny, happy boys and girls have their new clothes, along with a long list of school supplies ready for the new school year. Chances are, however, a bike is not one of the items kids are prepping for the coming school year here in Jacksonville.

I live across the street from an elementary school here in Riverside. About two months prior to the end of the last school year, I started to pay attention to the traffic flow around the school prior to class letting out for the day. What anyone who has a child in school knows is that about an hour before school lets out, the mini vans and SUV's start lining up, putting an end to any hope of normal traffic flow for any road that happens to be on the inlet side of a school.

One day I noticed that there were very few kids who walked away from the school. I then realized I had never seen a child ride a bike to or from this school. I thought this kind of odd, considering Riverside is ideal for children to get to and from school under their own power.

This got me thinking. Why weren't kids walking in large numbers? Why weren't they riding bikes? Does the school even have a bike rack? Is it because the school is a magnet school? Are kids walking or riding to other schools in the area? When was the last time I heard about bike safety programs at this or any local school?

To find some answers, I grabbed my camera and my bike headed out to pay a visit to the area schools.

My first stop was Central Riverside Elementary.

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At Central Riverside Elementary, after some searching I finally found a bike rack. It was, however, just about as far from the main building as it could be and still be on school property. It was also completely inaccessible, as it was behind a locked gate.

I inquired at the main office if Central Riverside was indeed in the magnet program. The answer was, "yes." I then asked what percentage of the students are local to the Riverside area. I was told "about 50 percent."

According to the Duval County Schools website, there are 389 enrolled students. Half of that is 195 (rounded up). I counted on numerous days an average of about 30 kids walking home from school. And a big fat zero on bikes.

I then rode over to Robert E. Lee High School. In what has to be the largest bike rack in Jacksonville, there was one lone bicycle. The student size, according to school board website, is 1,884. One bike. ‘Nuff said.

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My next stop was West Riverside Elementary.

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I like to show you a picture of West Riverside's bike rack. But the school doesn't even seem to have one.

I don't have kids, so I admit I don't have the same insight of a parent. I am baffled as to why, in the urban core, more children are not going to school under their own power. We have gridded, tree-lined streets, sidewalks, and slow-moving traffic on all but a couple of main arteries.

I also can't help but think that if kids are not riding bikes to school here in the urban core, what must it be like in the suburban schools?

Have parents succumbed to the fear-mongering by the media that everyone is out to abduct or molest their children? Or are we so entrenched in our car culture that biking or walking are not even given a thought? Are there other reasons I'm just not aware of as a non-parent? Why are kids being cheated out the absolutely joyful sensations of independence and learned responsibility they attain by riding a bike to school?

I read in numerous blogs and news articles about how other cities are adopting Safe Routes To School programs. But as of this writing, I have not been able to find any type of bike or pedestrian safety programs within the Duval County school system.

I'd really like to hear from you, the parents. Why don't your children walk or ride a bike to school? If your children do ride or walk to school, tell me the commute length. What are your concerns about their commute? Does the school promote walking or riding? Do they have an adequate amount of bike racks?

Mom, Dad, help me understand why Johnny can't ride.

According to this New York article I just found thru the Chic Cyclist in Boston. Children not walking or biking to schools is a nation wide problem.

"Forty years ago, half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, fewer than 15 percent travel on their own steam. One-quarter take buses, and about 60 percent are transported in private automobiles, usually driven by a parent or, sometimes, a teenager."


jackdiablo said...

That is really sad. When I was in elementary school, we all rode bikes. Beat the bus, that's for sure.

Archi-Phreak said...

As a parent I can see how some may be a little cautious about letting their children ride to school. There are many idiot drivers out there who don't pay any attention to anyone else on the road, be them in a car or on a bike. But, being in Riverside, less than 1 mile from a school it is ridiculous to not let kids walk/ride to school on their own. As you said, there are plenty of slow, safe streets for kids to take to get to school. And it will certainly be more enjoyable and less stressful on the kids not to have to sit in traffic with their mother or father screaming at the guy in front of them that just won't get off his cell phone and drive!
Just my own two cents.

Bryan said...

I have 3 girls who go to 3 different schools here in Jacksonville. My youngest (7) is too young to ride to school and it's over 3 miles to her school that would require navigating some very busy roads/intersections (Baymeadows/Southside area). My other two daughters (16/15) go to schools that are more than an easy bike ride away. One goes to a school that's over 7 miles away with virtually no way for her to get there without dealing with huge traffic congestion. The other goes to a magnet school that's over 12 miles away. If we lived closer and traffic wasn't a huge problem, I'd probably be ok with them riding to school.

Twin Lakes Academy Middle is near my house and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, they have hundreds of bike racks. It looks like a bike rack farm. I'm not sure how many are used.

Anonymous said...

I am part of the generation that came of age in the 60s ... in small-town America. If I had suggested to my father that I be driven to school he would have never stopped laughing.

Now we have what is called a Risk Culture. The media have taken events like child abduction by strangers - which have always been rare - into something like the "norm".

And your intuition is correct about kids riding in the suburbs. In this case, parents move out to the 'burbs to find a safe environment - and then discover that it is not "safe" at all. As soon as the kids leave the cul-de-sac they find themselves on some very fast, busy streets.

David said...

I live in Julington Creek and I see at least around 50-100 kids riding their bikes to/from the elementary school, but I know when I would ride my bike to Bartram Trail High School I was the only one on a bike.

Anonymous said...

In the 2 bedroom apartment above me lives a family of 8. They have 3 SUV's and a Mercedes. (One SUV is for storage of milk cartons, soda cans and beer bottles)None of the kids drive but Mommy starts each day by driving the oldest 3 blocks to the high school, she returns and picks up the little ones and drops them off. Later she reverses this to pick them all up. All six of the kids are fat, bordering on obese. Coincidence? I think not.

Anonymous said...

I rode my bike to elementary school everyday, about 3 blocks. I walked or took public transportation ( or , and don't try this at home kids, hopped freight trains for a mile) to high school, about 3 miles. My parents never, ever drove me to or from school in all 13 years.

Anonymous said...

I grew up walking or riding my bike to school from as far back as I can recall. A clue to how far back that might be, when I was told I was too young to ride a bike from the Memorial Hops vicinity to Hogan Spring Glenn Elem off Beach Blvd, I actually pedaled my girlie behind on my Big Wheel. (Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about!) But I rode a bike to school throughout most of my years when I wasnt bused across town.

My own daughter is now 20 yrs old, but I think road/other driver safety is the number one reason why parents don't let their kids ride bikes to school. Early morning can be low visibility and frankly, drivers arent watching for kids on bikes. Frequent cell phone idiots and texting-related accidents...not enough education out there. But its something I'm willing to help change.

My daughter either walked or ride her bike to school, weather permitting, even with a bus avail. Her choice.

Terri Hartley

sasquatch2 said...

my kid's elementary school has a no biking to school rule... and no bike racks. my son's middle school has 1 small bike rack at the top of a hill so when he biked to school he apparently parked it behind the library across the street where everyone's QR seats were stolen 1 day. another pal of his was side swiped by a car 1 day on his way to school because there are no "safe routes to school" and no bike lanes (and crazy kids aren't the safest cyclists!) I fear for my kids safety because drivers suck- especially at rush hour. last year 2 dip-wads plowed into each-other driving thru an intersection with about 20-30 kids around waiting to cross with the crossing guard. luckily there was a huge oak tree on 1 corner which they plowed into saving about 15 kid's lives.

jenny said...

Sorry for posting so late. My daughter attends Central Riverside and we drop her off and pick her by car. Aside for her being to young to travel to school on her own (she's 5), we live in Springfield, so we are too far away. We plan to move to Riverside sometime in the near future, and being in her school's neighborhood will be a priority. Mostly so that when she is ready, she can bike or walk to school on her own.
Also, I've kept an eye on the bike rack at Central Riverside since reading your post, and I've noticed that the gate is open in the morning. I'm guessing they lock it up during school hours.