Guest Commentary: An Unexpected Silver Lining – Let’s Make Sure Bike Riding to School Is Part of The New Normal

by Lisa Montanaro

It’s been a long winter – in more ways than one. The chilly wet weather kept adults and children cooped up indoors more than usual, and sadly, so did the pandemic. Most people were hunkered down, spending hours glued to computer screens working from home or attending classes. But now we see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. We’re entering the wonderful warm weather season, and hopefully will be seeing the worst part of the pandemic behind us with vaccinations ramping up and herd immunity starting to take effect. Going back to school and work will take on new meaning this time around. It’s the chance to reconnect with teachers, students, and work colleagues in person.

It’s also the perfect opportunity to incorporate bike riding into the school and workday!

Close your eyes and think back: Do you remember the first time you rode a bike? Remember how it felt when your feet left the ground, gripped the pedals, and you could feel yourself moving? Exhilarating and empowering! Now imagine feeling that every day. It helps elevate the mundane commute into something more significant and memorable.

While most people are itching to return to pre-pandemic life, what they call “back to normal,” it’s in our power to create a New Normal based on some unexpected lessons learned in the past year. One of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic is how many people jumped on two wheels. Thousands of families picked up the new habit of riding bikes and discovered the joy it brings. Bike riding during the pandemic helped adults and children feel less isolated during an unprecedented situation and more connected to their community. Decreased vehicle traffic made it safer and more joyful to be outdoors, while improving the environment, air quality, and our physical and mental health. Let’s not bring back traffic congestion and chaos on our roads, at our intersections, and in front of every school in the area.

Now that many parents have broken the habit of driving their kids to school and after school activities, this is the perfect time to incorporate bike riding into your routine. Parents can accompany their kids to school by bike and get additional exercise by then riding to work or back home – with a possible stop for a cup of coffee along the way. For older kids, parents can encourage them to ride to school with local classmates. Riding a bike to school provides kids an opportunity to socialize with friends and get fresh air and exercise. It also promotes independence and a way to get some energy out before school even begins. Kids get a chance to be outdoors on a daily basis, which is so important considering a large portion of their days are spent indoors. Also, biking to school is sometimes easier on parents with young children than taking the time to strap them into car seats, and waiting in the car line at the drop-off zone. Indeed, bike riding to school helps keep car congestion down in the area surrounding the school on busy mornings and afternoons. Before school restarts, test out various bike riding routes to compare and see which ones are the safest and most enjoyable.

As the days get longer, the world becomes healthier, and our hearts get fuller with the promise of being together in person again, let’s not lose sight of the lemonade that we may have made during a difficult time. This is an opportunity for bike-savvy adults to thoughtfully decide what the New Normal will look like, and to serve as “roll” models to their children – and other adults.

This article was written by Lisa Montanaro, commissioned by The Bike Campaign. For more information about how to “Bike More. Drive Less.” contact Maria Contreras Tebbutt at funmaria@sbcglobal.net or www.TheBikeCampaign.com.


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About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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11 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    Maybe the city could fix the streets that the kids bike on to school so that they aren’t hazardous to bike riders from all the cobbles of asphalt breaking up from disinvestment in infrastructure.

  2. Sharla Cheney

    Bicycle riders and walkers should be given preferential access to the school.  The danger is not the ride to the school, but having to dodge cars crowded in the streets in front of the schools and racing through side streets before and after drop off.  Drop off areas should be away from the entrances to the bike racks and pedestrian pathways.   Cars should not be pulling up and crossing into bike lanes on the bicycle approaches to schools.  Maybe a redesign to provide off street or protected bike lanes and walking paths could help.  Make arriving and leaving by bike and foot easier than by car and more people will opt for that.

    I rode my bike to Davis schools from Kindergarten through High School.  It was a safe way to travel back then, but we didn’t have to deal with parents in cars in a rush.   Pre-pandemic I would ride my bike past Valley Oak when it was still an elementary school.  I was appalled by the crush of cars and altered my route to avoid the area.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I affirm your observations, Sharla… @ PW the Traffic Engineer and I taped the interactions of bike/ped/vehicular traffic @ L/Drexel… we did so as there were complaints of “too much traffic” at the intersection…

      Turns out almost all the MV traffic was parents dropping their JH students off, because it was “unsafe” for them to walk or use bicycles… Walt Kelly nailed it many years ago, in his comic strip… Pogo observes, “We have met the enemy, and it is us”…

      Sharla, as a UCD student in the 70’s, HS kids didn’t have cars to drive to school… parents had their kids walk or use a bicycle… that was my experience in the 60’s, where my parents only drove me to elementary school when it was raining “big-time” (seldom)…

      Again, Sharla, am affirming your observations… let those who have eyes, “see”… may those who have ears, “listen”… but am not optimistic that they will…

  3. Alan Miller

    Our culture has receded.  Biking to school is replaced by parents driving their kids to school, ironically making it less safe for those kids still biking, not to mention the emissions generated and stealing away an opportunity to exercise.

    The pandemic has caused an huge increase in car sales, resulting in a spike in used-car prices.  As people return to work, they are tending to avoid public transit and drive instead.  The Capitol Corridor has decreased service, contributing to the spiral.  Many trends are in the wrong direction both pre-and post pandemic.

    I appreciate the article.  I believe things will get worse before they get better.

    1. Bill Marshall

      I believe things will get worse before they get better.

      I do not disagree… train travel (particularly if you have a bicycle on-board) is fan-damn-tastic if the trip is between Davis and the Bay Area… cutting down on the Capitol Corridor service is just WRONG… but, perhaps understandable… I have often used the train/bicycle modes… longer time, but less stress and a push on $$$…

      ‘Light rail’ (or in NYC, subways) are much better [by orders of magnitude] better than individual MV’s… the author of the subject article is correct… a time to “re-correct”, and ‘reconnect’…

      There are some things I need a car for… and my ability to bicycle/walk have diminished over the last few years… but if those physical impedients went away, I’d be doing much more local errands/travel on foot or bicycle…

      This was a good article…

       

      1. Alan Miller

        cutting down on the Capitol Corridor service is just WRONG…

        WM, rail transportation is my passion and profession and while I agree, in theory, it was quite necessary, as ridership for much of the pandemic has been down 90%-ish compared to a year earlier (varies by month).  There wasn’t much choice.  In fact, we are fortunate as in a few cases in other states entire services were shut down for many months.

  4. Ron Oertel

    When I was a kid, we didn’t have fancy things such as bicycles and roads.

    Instead, we walked to school (uphill both ways, in the snow – in homemade shoes). But, only after milking the cows.

    We did, however, have cell phones – as I recall in my imagination.

    🙂

  5. Todd Edelman

    Walking and cycling should be the primary means of travel to school – and I applaud the earlier comments, especially those that reflect on how the biggest danger to people walking or cycling to school is people driving themselves or being driven by their parents to school.

    The school drop-off is actually not permitted in some cities… students can’t be dropped off at or near school. The discussions and planning for the school commute in relation to Chavez Elementary are dominated by the necessity of the infamous drop-off.

    Then also we have the new, Federally-funded connector from east Olive Dr. to Pole Line (and South Davis). It’s great and its primary purpose is to connect kids on Olive to school in South Davis, BUT the City has allowed the Ryder (Lincoln40) frontage to be re-constructed in such a way that bike lanes are below Davis minimums. They so far refuse to consider moving parked cars from the south side of Olive, which allow re-striping on both sides to City Standards. While the westbound I-80 exit to Olive will be eventually be shut down, in the process towards that – i.e. while the 80-Richards interchange is being re-constructed – the plan is to detour ALL westbound traffic headed into Davis onto Olive, crossing the path of students headed the other way to South Davis (and also alongside university students headed to campus).

    The bus should be a great alternative – especially in DJUSD schools where 20 to 40% of elementary-age students don’t come from areas near them – but unfortunately Unitrans doesn’t really work for students below 4th or 5th grade.  Yet the DJUSD Board has repeatedly refused to consider implementing a return of intra-city school buses… they won’t even consider doing a study. No movement there, even as other schools around the country – including UCD – move towards 100% electric bus fleets.

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