With winter approaching (even a seemingly mild one), thoughts of cycling as a practical means of commuting might be on hold until spring. Actually, for parents looking to encourage children to ride their bicycles to school, winter is the time to push the issue. Convincing children to ride might not be as challenging as making certain riding is a feasible option. Parents might need to work within existing parents groups and in partnership with schools to support safe riding to and from school. Making this happen is more difficult in some communities than in others, so winter is the time to begin planning the initiative. Below are steps parents can take to promote cycling as a safe way for students to commute.
1. Identify Safe Corridors – Schools can’t simply state that cycling is a viable way for students to get to school and then hope for the best. Communities with heavy car traffic have a limited number of safe routes. To identify these routes, parents and school officials can work with local police or cycling advocacy groups. A parent group can act as the conduit between the school and these organizations. Additionally, parents in the role of concerned citizens might be able to work with the community’s streets department to establish signage along these corridors. Parent volunteers can help monitor these corridors during the hours students are using them.
2. Hook Other Parents – Plans to promote cycling as a school-wide initiative won’t work without a buy-in from a large number of parents. Late winter into early spring will be the time to hold parent-sponsored public forums about safe cycling. Once again, police and cycling advocacy groups can lend legitimacy to any such campaign. In an age in which many parents want control over every aspect of their children’s days, a parent group will need to present convincing arguments about the relative safety of cycling. Additionally, skeptical parents should have reasons to believe cycling will be of benefit. Exulting the health benefits of cycling would be a good start. Another angle would be to promote cycling as either a green initiative or as a way for thrifty parents to save on the cost of driving their children to school.
3. Hook The Students – The students might need some incentive to ride. Some might be eager to ride to school. Others might want a reason to do so, especially on cooler, windy days. Parents can create their own incentives. They don’t have to stop here, though. They can suggest ideas to school officials, such as school-wide programs that reward students for the number of days they ride per marking period. Logging miles can be incorporated into science and math projects comparing car emissions with calories burned. If students feel they’re working towards something, they might be more likely to stick with riding. Teachers and administrators might warm up to cycling initiatives if they see clear curricular connections. Of course, these connections can be reinforced in heath and physical education classes, but also they can be part of programs that involve much of the school community.
4. Seek Further Community Connections – Local bicycle shops might leap at the chance to offer student discounts to those involved in a bike-to-school campaign. They have the opportunity to attract new and possibly life-long customers in the young cyclists who come in to buy helmets, lights, or new bikes. Some shops, advocacy groups, or even racing teams might offer ancillary courses on bike maintenance or fitness. Catching young, enthusiastic riders will ultimately help their causes, so they’ll likely be willing to cooperate with school initiatives in offering discounts and other incentives. A parent group once again can take charge by spreading the word about a cycling initiative to these potentially interested local businesses.
5. Establish Infrastructure – The school campus needs to offer a secure location for students to lock bicycles. At minimum, amble rack space needs to be available. Keeping this in a protected shed of some kind would be ideal, but barring that, the school should try to keep some slight roof or awning over the bikes to protect them from the elements. Students will be turned off to riding if their bikes get stolen or even rusty. All of this costs money. Here is where a parent group’s fundraising prowess will be important. If a parent group can offer up some of the cost of such infrastructure, the school will be more likely to do its share to promote the cause.
These steps won’t convince all students to ride. In truth, riding won’t be the most appropriate option for all students. However, parents in cycling-friendly can use these steps to get a few more students peddling their way to school.
Written by Jeff Hartman