The hard part about getting kids to ride their bikes to school isn’t finding routes with the least amount of car traffic. It isn’t even about finding helmets that fit. It’s about convincing Mom and Dad to let them go.
“First I have to work with the parents,” said Brenda Severs, the physical education teacher at Valleyview Elementary School in Columbus’s Hilltop neighborhood. “It’s about getting them to be comfortable.”
The objections range from anxiety about stranger danger and traffic to concerns about changing the family’s morning routine.
“We like to speak to the parents first,” said Jess Mathews. Her group, Consider Biking, works with schools in the city to implement bike-to-school campaigns, which are funded by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to Schools program. The SRTS program has existed since 2004, said its program manager Julie Walcoff.
“It’s been so successful in Ohio,” said Walcoff. “So many communities who have not thought about this before have gotten involved. Some, to be honest, adopt it so they can improve the safety of their sidewalks and streets for children getting to school. But some are doing it because they’re thinking about the positive effect that these activities will have on learning.”
The funds provided through a competitive grant process can be used for infrastructure improvements like better sidewalks, bike racks, safer crosswalks and other connections used by pedestrians and cyclists. Non-infrastructure funds are used by school districts and municipal governments to bring in groups like Consider Biking to educate and encourage safe biking and walking to school. This year, $16 million in SRTS funding was awarded throughout the state.
Valleyview hosted an 8-week program this spring and will do fall and spring education sessions during the upcoming school year, said Severs. About 20 children were biking on a regular basis by the end of the school year and Severs said she even found fun ways to weave bike-safety lessons into gym class for the kids who don’t ride.
“While we’re working on something for cardiovascular fitness,” Severs said, “I’ll say ‘show me a hand signal for turning left or right.’ They love to learn new things. The hard part is the parents. It’s hard to let go of your babies.”
Photo provided by Consider Biking