It’s one of the most bike-friendly towns in the Boston area, with every inch within a few miles of the Minuteman Bikeway, the most popular bike path in the country, with two bike shops for the towns’ 41,000 or so residents, and with a Bicycle Advisory Committee to advise civic leaders on all matters pedal-related. When you consider that most children in Arlington, Massachusetts live within a mile of one of the seven elementary schools, you’d think that it would be the perfect place for kids to ride their bikes to school and back. So why do the schools discourage biking to school and parents forbid it?
“If you can’t ride to school in Arlington, then there’s no place you can ride to school in Massachusetts,” says David Watson, executive director of the Boston-based bike advocacy group MassBike — and an Arlington resident. So why don’t kids ride to school? Safety. “A very large percentage of the traffic around schools is generated by parents dropping their kids off,” Watson explained. “So you get this very circular argument where parents say, I can’t let my kid walk or bike to school because of all the traffic.’ But they’re the ones creating the traffic.”
One school is toying with letting kids ride their bikes to school by instituting a “dismount zone” where children get off their bikes before getting to school and walk them the rest of the way. Deborah D’Amico, principal of the Hardy School, is now considering installing bike racks, but the school district still will not support the idea. “They’re just fearful if they completely support it and a kid gets hurt, it’s on their back,” said Lauren Hefferon, an Arlington mother who helped get the school into a bicycle safety program run by MassBike. “I don’t think it’s grounded in actual statistics, but that’s their fear.”
It seems to me that in a town that’s only five and a half square miles, kids ought to be able to make it to school without getting clobbered — I know they manage it here in San Francisco, a much bigger town with a lot more traffic. Perhaps the “dismount zone” should be for cars — let the SUVs and minivans unload a block away to leave the area immediately around the schools as free of traffic as possible? Or would it be too much to ask kids to walk the last block for safety’s sake?
So what do you all think? Are these parents being too cautious and protective or are they right and all those SUVs and minivans are indeed a danger to life and limb? What about in your town — do your kids bike to school or is this a more widespread issue?