Sunday, October 4, 2009

October 7 Ride a bike to school

Wednesday is International Walk and Bike to School Day. By organizing my sons' Pinecrest school to participate, I am shaking up a lot of parents' drive-up and drop-off routines.

At least a dozen families of the 230 students at Temple Beth Am Day School are planning to hoof or pedal to school that morning. Many will break up their drive by parking in a nearby park and walking the rest of the way as a group.

We'll be joining about a dozen Miami-Dade schools, almost 200 schools statewide and more than 6,000 schools across the country. Almost four million people participate in more than 40 countries.

Seeing groups of kids walking to school is something I grew up with. It's strange to me that the streets are generally empty of pedestrians in much of South Florida.

But Miami is in line with national trends. In 1969, 42 percent of students walked or biked to school. The most recent National Household Travel survey showed that less than a quarter of students between ages 5 and 15 walk or bike to school. That makes sense when only about a quarter of students live less then a mile from their school.

My motivation for organizing bike-and-walk day at my sons' school? To build community by increasing interactions between parents and students that driving prevents.

It is a chance to get more exercise, teach safe walking and biking skills to children, raise awareness about whether the neighborhood has a safe route to walk and bike and where improvements might be needed. It shows our concern for the environment, reduces traffic congestion and pollution and brings children, parents and community leaders together.

The University of Miami trauma prevention program WalkSafe provides a free, ready-made three-session safety curriculum available to all public elementary school students. Yet less than half of the schools participate.

WalkSafe officials say it's not enough to teach students safety skills and encourage them to take to the streets. It's equally important to assess accident sites and engineering.

While the number of child pedestrians hit by cars continues to decrease in Miami-Dade, a recent incident where a student was hit by a car while crossing the street after exiting a school bus may give parents pause. But those fears and fears of strangers need to be put into perspective.

Walk and Bike to School Day observances can take many forms -- from a walk around the neighborhood to a kick-off event advocating for slower speed zones or more crosswalks or bike lanes around your child's school.

Many communities around the country and the world have taken the experience a step further and extended it through the whole month of October or one day a week throughout the year. Some schools have instituted walking or biking instead of school buses, and parents take turns supervising neighborhood children on their walk to school.

I hope that students and parents regard it as an energizing event, reminding everyone of the simple joy of walking to school and the need for safe places to walk and bike.


Tyler said...

Just wanted to say how great sunday was. Everyone did a great job and we accomplished a lot. I was impressed by how much we got done with a minimal amount of planning. The reaction from the community was great.