I would like to ask all students, of all ages, to bike to school on May 9 for the first National Bike to School Day.
The list of reasons why you should bike (anywhere, but especially) to school range from health, to independence, to safety, to way-finding. An article I read recently summed up the topic of my senior thesis: Children develop spatial relationships and geographic way-finding by walking increasing distances from their "home base," establishing landmarks and directional cues as they go. Apparently they are unable to do this as well when they are driven everywhere.
I spoke with Appleyard about his findings, and he highlighted a paradox of the modern car-dependent community. The United States has made gains in traffic safety over the last generation, but we have done so in part by removing pedestrians from the streetscape. He cites a poll that shows 71 percent of parents surveyed had walked or biked to school when they were kids, but only 18 percent of their children do so.
“We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in fatalities,” Appleyard says. “But we’ve also seen abandonment of the streets. Parents see too much traffic. What is the rational thing for a parent to do? Your choice is to drive them. It’s a multiplier effect – parents are driving because there’s more traffic, and then there’s more traffic.”
Children who had a “windshield perspective” from being driven everywhere weren’t able to accurately draw how the streets in their community connected, whereas children who walked or biked to get around produced detailed and highly accurate maps of their neighborhood street network.
This phenomenon of the "multiplier effect" is not unique to children being driven around. In Minneapolis, we are experiencing the other side of that effect: More cyclists are using the streets, making the streets safer and encouraging more cycling! This National Bike to School Day I hope that kids on bicycles will be able to move towards that positive change, and that biking to school will once again be normalized. I have a lot of faith in the Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School initiatives, and I hope that in my lifetime I will see children return to the streets.
In this video, "Self-Reliance Grows in the Utrecht Traffic Garden," Streetfilms captures an essential piece of the puzzle that allows children to bike safely- Education!
In the Dutch city of Utrecht, kids start learning about traffic safety long before they prepare for a driver's license. And not just "look both ways before you cross the street."
The school curriculum includes regular field trips to the local "traffic garden." The City of Utrecht has used this facility, a streetscape in miniature, to teach kids the rules of the road since the 1950s. Students take turns as cyclists, pedestrians and car drivers, learning how to take other types of street users into consideration. The hands-on experience navigating the traffic garden gives kids the skills and confidence to get around the city under their own power as soon as their early teens.
Apparently there is a Kidical Mass organized through the City of Minneapolis! Has anyone here participated? I'd love to hear about the experience.