Fighting for the Right to Bike to School

A couple of stories we've linked from headlines this week point to the continuation of a disturbing trend: families whose parents are questioned, criticized and even intimidated for encouraging their kids to bike or walk to school. 

marino.jpgAdam Marino: middle-schooler; revolutionary.
In Saratoga Springs, reports The Saratogian, controversy has erupted over the Marino family's desire to let son Adam ride his bike to Maple Avenue Middle School. Before the first day of classes last week, officials actually placed calls telling parents not to permit kids to bike or walk. The Marinos, regular bike riders, defied the "rule" -- school officials can't dictate how kids get to school any more than they can tell parents which make of car to drive. They were greeted outside by school personnel and a New York state trooper.

They were informed that they were "out of compliance," and had a lengthy discussion over where Adam’s bike could be locked.

"I was extremely bothered," Kaddo Marino said, "after reviewing the way we were met at the school. It was very intimidating to be met by these three men, one of whom was a trooper."

The Marinos aren't alone. A recent New York Times back-to-school piece profiles similar cases in which parents who permit their kids to walk and bike are met with raised eyebrows, or worse. One mother in Mississippi was threatened with a child endangerment charge for letting her 10-year-old walk a mile to soccer practice after passersby saw the boy and called 911. Another in Vancouver, British Columbia, was left waiting and worrying for her first grader after school officials prevented him from walking himself home -- a distance of six houses.

Issues of liability and fears of abductions are often raised to explain the resistance to a practice that was commonplace 40 years ago, when 41 percent of American kids walked or biked to school. But the facts, as cited by the Times, don't support the paranoia. While about 115 children are abducted by strangers each year, some 250,000 are injured in car crashes. Many parents get this, and some are wondering: If schools and districts are so obsessed with the responsibilities entailed by enabling students to bike or walk, why aren't they more concerned about having kids arrive in -- much less driving their own -- cars?

The most obvious answer: car culture. While some communities mentioned in these stories are, and should be, concerned over street safety (advocates in Saratoga Springs, for instance, are rallying around the Marinos), the response in most cases has not been to make improvements, but to castigate families who want their kids to navigate the world outside the confines of a motor vehicle. This reaction -- to escalate the simple act of a child riding a bike to the level of civil disobedience -- can only make sense in an environment where it's considered normal to shuttle the kids by car down the driveway to meet the school bus.