May is Bike Month, and all over America, communities are having special events, such as bike-to-work week and bike-to-work day, and a lot of people will likely participate, especially if you hand out free coffee and bagels as Fort Wayne is planning to do.
But there’s one event scheduled for Wednesday that doesn’t seem to be attracting a lot of attention – bike-to-school day.
Time was, back when people wrote in script and multiplied and divided with pencil and paper instead of calculators, lots of kids rode their bikes to school – and to the grocery and parks and just to see where a road led.
In fact, the Indiana Safe Routes to School Partnership said that in 1969 (45 years ago), half of all students walked or rode bikes to school. By 2009, that had dropped to just 13 percent. Everyone else arrived by car or in a bus.
In some cases, getting around in the old-fashioned way is discouraged. A few years ago, I wrote about a student at a Fort Wayne school who was told he wasn’t allowed to ride his bike to school. The reason, I was told, was a vague policy that had been instituted years before because some bikes were vandalized. Ban the bikes, and the bike vandals go away.
Bicycles, though, have really gotten a push in the past few years. Bicycle trails have been expanded dramatically, bike lanes have been painted on streets, fancy bike racks are going up all over, and the stigma of cyclists being looked at as people who lost their licenses has diminished, especially if you’re riding a bike that costs as much as a decent used car.
But bike-to-school day just doesn’t seem to be catching on.
The state of Indiana has a little more than 2,000 public schools, but as of late last week, only 35 schools had elected to take part in bike-to-school day. Most of those are in smaller towns in central and southern Indiana, and nary a one is in northeast Indiana.
In a way, I can understand why. Fort Wayne, for all the greenway miles and bike lanes, still isn’t a convenient place to ride a bike for basic transportation. Many schools are on busy roads that don’t have sidewalks, the sort of roads that even serious cyclists avoid.
Let’s be honest. Do you really want your third- or fourth-grader riding his bike down Rudisill or Calhoun or Reed or Getz Road?
Kim Irwin, who coordinates Safe Routes to School, acknowledges, Sometimes the infrastructure doesn’t allow kids to walk and bike to school.
But there’s a silver lining to that. Schools or groups that try to organize such events discover what the infrastructure needs are, and that’s a start.
I’ve seen it pick up because of one family who decided to take part on their own in events such as bike-to-school day, Irwin said. That’s enough to get the ball rolling, but it’s not quick and easy.