Reflections on Bike to School Day 2017
BikeNWA's Executive Director reflects on Bike to School Day 2017
BikeNWA has been around in some form or another since 1999, but since we restructured the organization this year, it feels a lot like a startup, and as anyone who’s worked at a startup will tell you, it’s easy to get bogged down in operational minutiae. As such, we thought it’d be fun to get out of the office and in the saddle in support of National Bike to School Day (yesterday, May 10th). In advance, we reached out to several schools that we knew had active bike trains and teamed up to encourage and support their students biking to school. Yesterday morning, we handed out Travel with Care NWA stickers and bike lights (white for the front, red for the rear) to the kids participating in these bike trains in order to keep them safe on our region’s roads and trails. We’d like to give a big thank you and shoutout to Phat Tire Bike Shop for graciously supplying the lights.
We also want to highlight a few standout schools from yesterday. Janie Darr Elementary in Rogers had more than 150 children in their bike train—that’s 1 out of 4 students and may very well constitute the largest Bike to School Day celebration in our region.
George Elementary School met at Shiloh Square in Downtown Springdale yesterday morning, where Mayor Sprouse declared May 10th, 2017 as Bike to School Day in the City of Springdale. Following the proclamation, 70+ students rode their bikes to school via the Razorback Greenway. (Kudos to Mayor Sprouse and the administrations of both the city and the school district for making biking a priority.) Yesterday afternoon, BikeNWA team members also supported the ride home from Joe Mathias Elementary in Rogers.
In past years, I’ve celebrated Bike to School Day at various schools throughout the region, but I’ve never been able to mark the occasion by biking with my own 9-year-old daughter to her school. Now that BikeNWA has a few more staff members to spread around, I was finally able to do so yesterday. You’d think that as a consummate bike dad, this would be something we do fairly frequently, but we don’t. In fact, this is only the second time this spring that I’ve biked to school with my daughter.
So—why don’t we do it more often?
During my ride home, I started turning that question over in my mind and reflecting on the barriers—both perceived and real—to biking to school. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them, but there are three in particular that I want to explore today.
Normally, my daughter and I are up by 6:30AM and in the car en route to school by 8:15AM. Yesterday morning, due to what we’ll call an alarm clock malfunction (I forgot to set it.), we woke up half an hour late. Nevertheless, we made do and were out the door and on our bikes by 8:05AM. We arrived at school on time—a little more flushed than we would’ve been had we driven, but, by the same token, much more alert and ready for the day ahead. Even with less time than normal, we made it work because we’d made it a priority to make it work.
Too frequently, we opt for the car simply because we don’t make the time to saddle up. It’s not a real lack of minutes that keeps us from biking, rather it’s the perception that we don't have time in the mornings that keeps us from riding more often. The next beautiful day that you are about to jump in the car to head to school (or for a quick trip of a couple miles) consider biking instead. Since a bike can (to a certain extent) operate alongside traffic (as opposed to in it), you might actually save time. And even if you don’t, you’ve saved money on gas, gotten a low-impact workout, reduced your carbon footprint, and had a lot more fun than you would’ve had you been stuck behind the wheel.
Insufficient infrastructure is a very real barrier to biking as transportation for a lot of people in Northwest Arkansas. Yesterday, as my daughter and I rode on neighborhood streets to get to the Razorback Greenway, I sensed some hesitancy in her as a result of the lack of infrastructure indicating to her that people on bikes are welcome here. These roads, which are too low-volume and low-speed to warrant protected bike lanes, could benefit greatly from traffic calming measures like neighborhood greenways. Once on the Greenway, we were faced with different types of crossing signals that were difficult to explain even to a 9-year-old. We also had to traverse several commercial driveway crossings (also known as curb cuts) on a sidepath that had no markings to alert motorists entering or exiting the driveways. People driving cars looked annoyed and confused as we approached the crossings. Finally, we pedaled along in a bike lane that was far too narrow, considering the speed of vehicular traffic immediately next to us.
So where does that leave us? Well, safe at school. Though infrastructure is lacking in some places, it does exist. In fact, lots of NWA residents live in close proximity to the Razorback Regional Greenway. For those that don't, you might have to get creative with your route to take advantage of bike infrastructure, and it might make the trip a little longer, but that just means more exercise and more quality time spent with your child. After we arrived at my daughter’s school, I asked her if she would ride again and she said, “Yes, dad—we need to!”
Parents are the last barrier to biking to school. If we want our kids to be able to safely bike to school on a regular basis, it’s up to us—not them—to advocate for the conditions necessary to make that happen. At a personal level, that might mean insisting on waking up a bit earlier for a slightly longer trip to school. At a civic level, we recommend contacting your child’s school and asking about their Safe Routes to School efforts. You could even start a Safe Routes to School Program and contact us for support. Write your mayor and city councilperson to ask about regional standards for shared-use paved trail crossings, commercial driveway crossings, and ask them to plan and build more protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. If we all speak up, we’ll see more parents and children riding their bikes to school.
Bike to School Day 2018
Since its creation in 2012, National Bike To School Day has been celebrated nationally by thousands of students biking to and from school each year during the first week in May. First coordinated by the National Center for Safe Routes to School as part of the League of American Bicyclsts’ National Bike Month, this celebreation has grown from 950 events across the country to over 2,600 last year. If you know of a bike train that operates at your school and would like to have support for Bike to School Day next year, please let us know [insert link to mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org]. If we missed you this year, we sincerely apologize and look forward to championing your efforts in 2018