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National organization finds that bike-to-school bans are on the rise

Posted by on August 19th, 2009 at 5:11 pm

Robert Ping at the OR Bike Summit-3.jpg

Robert Ping from the Safe
Routes to School National
File photo
(Photos © J. Maus)

Robert Ping, the State Network Coordinator for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership shared a startling bit of information during his presentation at the Safe Routes to School Conference today.

In communities throughout America, students are being told they are not allowed to bike to school.

“It’s pervasive throughout the country and we’re hearing about it more and more,” he said. The problem, according to Ping, is that many school principals and administrators feel that biking and walking to school is simply unsafe. They are concerned about being held liable for anything that happens during the trip to and/or from school.

“It’s pervasive throughout the country and we’re hearing about it more and more.”
— Robert Ping, Safe Routes to School National Partnership

“The problem isn’t necessarily the biking or walking, but the concerns over liability that come with it.” Ping said his organization sees this as “an emerging issue” and they’re in the process of coordinating more research on it. At this point, they want to get a handle on just how many cities have bike bans in place.

In addition to studying the current scope of the problem, the Safe Routes National Partnership is putting together a team of legal experts who will craft a legal statement directed at school principals, outlining why improving biking and walking options will not increase their liability exposure. They hope the legal statement will also help allay the fears that lead to bike ban policies in the first place.

Safer Routes to School event-11.jpg

In Portland, they’re “Safer” routes.

Ping said one safe routes advocate he heard from countered a bike ban in their community by asking the principal whether or not he felt liable for kids who drive to school. “That’s a great way to push back on this idea.”

Ping acknowledges that school principals can’t actually enforce the bans (schools are not responsible for students until they are on school grounds), but even so, they can use their “bully pulpit” to influence the community.

Even in Portland there are liability fears around Safe Routes to School programs In 2007, the City of Portland changed the name of their program from Safe Routes to School to Safer (with an “r”) Routes to School. The reason? PBOT didn’t want to be held liable for suggesting that the routes they recommend are safe. Instead, they wanted the message to be that they are merely “safer” than other routes.

New Jersey is a state where bike ban policies have become a big battle. Leigh Ann Von Hagen, Project Manager for the N.J. Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center has been in the middle of that battle. Back in July, she wrote about the issue on the Livable Streets message board. She has worked with School Boards to overturn one bike ban policy so far and hopes for many more victories. “It is true that teenage driving is significantly more dangerous than students bicycling when you look at crash statistics,” she wrote, “Yet, no schools considers banning teenage drivers.”

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  • BURR August 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm


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  • twistyaction August 19, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    One of the most transformative and enduring moments of my life (bicycling life too) was when I decided that I didn’t want to be subject to the tyranny of the pissed off school bus driver in 10th grade in Ontario, Canada in the winter. I was sooo much happier and more free, riding my mountain bike to school (about 10 miles, from the “countryside”). That commute made my fitness improve to the point where I was really able to do some serious skill building in the better weather off road. Sure, it wasn’t perfectly safe, I got hit by a car and had a few solo crashes. I wouldn’t have traded it for a limo ride though.

    Schools denying kids the freedom to commute by bike is bull. If the parents feel it’s unsafe, that’s one thing. Ugh, our litigious society.

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  • Kris August 19, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    That’s pretty astonishing. It would be interesting to find out whether there is a pattern in the type of schools that have instated bike bans (private/public?, K12/MS/HS?).

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  • t27 August 19, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Next time someone is killed by a parent driving their child to school or a child is killed in their parent’s car on their way to school, sue the schools for not banning driving to school.

    Half of all children injured by drivers, were injured by parents driving their child to school.

    Driving is far more dangerous than walking or biking – start the call to ban driving to school.

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  • April August 19, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    When I was in 8th grade, in 1992, I lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We were not allowed to walk or bike to school. They never said flat out, “You’re not allowed to walk or bike to school.” What they said, for the first month of school, every morning on the announcements was that “THERE IS NO WALKING ZONE.”

    The school’s large property butted up to my backyard. I still had to walk to the corner and take the bus.

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  • Hart August 19, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    The auto industry spent a ton of money on fear-tactic films in the 1950’s to scare parents into thinking their children would be kidnapped, raped, or killed by vagrants and homosexuals if they were allowed to take any form of transportation to school other than that of the petroleum engine.

    Many of these films can be found in the Prelinger archive and some on youtube.

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  • LoneHeckler August 19, 2009 at 6:11 pm


    Barry Glassner’s book, “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things” speaks to this sort of mentality in our country.

    We’re scared of crime. Of accidents. And of the litigation that will undoubtedly follow. How about being afraid of childhood obesity, increasing pollution, and the taking away the simple and wonderful pleasure of riding a bicycle — the much more realistic threats?

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  • Todd Boulanger August 19, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    There are also other barriers…
    … The helmet issue: back a few years ago (not the current principal) at Hough Elementary School (98660) I took a call from a parent concerned about Vancouver School District practices of surpressing bike trips. During the first week to school 20+ kids biked to school. The then principal told them not to bike to school unless they had a helmet. The result: Two returned the next week with helmets. Nothing else was done by the school to address the helmet issue for this low income city center school. [Nor address the true safety problem: parents driving kids to school in a rushed and distracted condition.] This was at a time when there was neither a city helmet law nor a rash of school trip bike car crashes.

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  • Shetha August 19, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    It’s an interesting dilemma. What with the reduction in funding, a lot of schools are cutting out bus service to those within a mile or some such radius of a school. Leaving them to get to school any other way. The really sad part is these kids don’t have sidewalks, and they don’t have bike lanes. We, in Portland, are really lucky to have the resources that we do.

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  • Neil
    Neil August 19, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    This issue and others are common topics at the Free Range Kids blog by Lenore Skenazy.

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  • elaine August 19, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    I know for a fact that many of the Principals that I’ve worked with in Beaverton are very supportive of walking and biking to school.

    As a PE teacher helping to open a new public school in Beaverton, I find myself up against a slightly different battle. Our school lies just north of a busy Washington County Rd with a 45 mph speed limit, and within a new housing development (which does have good sidewalks). The sidewalks and bike lanes along this main road ( south of the school) are limited, but many of the neighborhoods that will feed into the school have great walk and bikeability.

    It’s really just this one busy road that’s the crux. There is no designated crosswalk to get kids across this busy intersection and into the neighborhood where this school is located.

    I’ve tried connecting with Safe Routes, the BTA, Washington Co DOT, and our Districts’ transportation department.
    Unfortunately, all I’ve heard is that it can take up to 5 or more years to put in a crosswalk and make the necessary infrastructure changes so that the kids who live 1/4 mile away from school will be able to walk and bike.

    For the forseeable future and starting this September almost 450 of our 500 kids will be bused from 1/4 mile away for the next few years. It could cost the district so much more in transportation costs then it will to install some crosswalk signs.

    I’m frustrated more with the planning side of this, when areas get developed, and why sidewalks and crosswalks are not mandated by a town, city or county before construction takes place. It’s a safety issue and a public health issue.

    We do have some enthusiastic parents at our school who are also passionate about walking and biking to school. I hope they can make some noise and get things moving along faster than 5 years.

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  • Q`ztal August 19, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Do schools still have Driver’s ED?
    By all rights the schools should be offering cyclist/road user education.
    The same rules that apply to cars apply to bikes so the road training could be achieved in a much less expensive manner.

    If schools want to invoke in loco parentis then they have an obligation to provide training for inexperienced drivers,

    cyclists and pedestrians. Anything less is an abbrogation of the responsibilites, and rights therin, that they claim.
    If they think that preventing students from cycling and walking to school protects them why not outlaw students driving autos to school? (they are much more dangerous)
    Why not outlaw parents driving students to school? (these parents are very distracted and their traffic slows legitimate bus traffic)
    Why not outlaw those school bus drivers? (they cause accidents and liability: in 1992 the school bus drivers in NC and SC were high school dropouts by 78% an 76% respectively. I felt

    safe, NOT!)
    No safe way to get kids to school? Well that’s for the best! Think if we require students to learn at home, like tele-commuting, then they will be safer. Plus if they aren’t on school

    property then schools can spend less money on liability insurance. If kids aren’t meeting up with other kids in person, on campus, then there will be no fights, no drug deals, no teachers or

    coaches attempting to fornicate with teachers … just think how much safer our children will be if we just lock them up keep them safe at home.

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  • Kris August 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Elaine #11: it’s very interesting to hear you echo some of the frustration I just heard yesterday from Tualatin Hills Parks & Rec planners trying to get Washington County to invest in safe bike/ped trail crossings across major arterials. Most of these busy roads fall under the County’s jurisdiction, though some might be managed by ODOT. From what I heard, it sounds like Wash County road planners are extremely averse to installing any additional bike/ped crossings that could impact the flow of car traffic on arterial roads, even if their absence means poor connectivity between neighborhoods and sub-par and unsafe crossing options for pedestrians and cyclists, especially novice and younger riders.

    This is in my opinion the single biggest challenge to make the concept of “Active Transportation” work in Washington County and I hope the BTA will focus more of its energy on helping folks like County Commissioner Dick Schouten change the current paradigm in Washington County. Compared to this, Portland’s bike boulevards and cycle tracks really are low-hanging fruit that will happen no matter with, even without being the BTA’s top focus.

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  • Paul August 19, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    This is really disturbing. I honestly can’t believe the justification behind this. How about the Japanese model of banning driving in school zones/routes during the hours when children are walking/biking to school? If I remember correctly, the children aren’t even allowed to have a parent chaperone them to school. They are required to travel on their own. Time for a hard look at priorities.

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  • brettoo August 20, 2009 at 12:47 am

    Maybe some parents should sue these schools when their kids have to get treatment for diabetes and other obesity/sedentary lifestyle related conditions.

    I seem to recall reading that some schools in Japan actually ban parents from dropping off their kids at school by car. Result: more kids bike to school, sometimes accompanied by parents on bikes. Maybe someone could look up the rationale for that policy and propose a similar one here.

    Jeff Mapes’ excellent book Pedaling Revolution devotes a whole chapter to bringing kids back to bikes, and that could provide ammunition for opposing these outrageous policies.

    This also shows that promoting bike use goes hand in hand with advocating smart land use planning, limiting sprawl, etc. If neighborhoods were more compact, presumably it’d be easier to devise safer routes to schools.

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  • diakrite August 20, 2009 at 1:53 am

    How come, that countries like danmark, The Netherlands, germany (all filled to the brink with cars)can keep up a good, safe infrastructure for cyclists(and no dopey helmets..) with kids biking from- and to schools???

    ‘S easy. Everyone with a driver’s licence will have had training in how to deal wit pedestrians and cyclists. kids get traffic-ed. from kindergarten on.

    Please, America, stop being so afraid of everything ,just train kids an adults alike for “greener”traffic. it will be a necessity in the future, whether one likes it or not. The gas-burners are starting to be more&more a liability in the city-centers. More people take bikes(looking at the many projects for bike lanes in The States, it is a development that’s gaining more&more steam..)

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  • peejay August 20, 2009 at 6:52 am

    This, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s wrong with our country in a nutshell.

    We replace a perfectly good system with a more “convenient” system, but one that is mostly incompatible with the first, and carries huge negative externalities, then spend the rest of the time justifying the new way, demonizing proponents of the old way, and using scare tactics to finish the job.

    I say we use the same tactics in reverse.

    “You still drive your kids to school?!”
    “Sure do. In a Hummer. Why do you ask?”
    “Aren’t you worried that they might get hurt? Oh, and it looks like Jimmy can’t make it to your Timmy’s birthday party after all.”

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  • Vance Longwell August 20, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Lemme get this straight. If the topic is infrastructure, and we’re talking about spending a mill or two assuaging fear then Portland streets are a nightmare. Unreasonably risky for the novice, and unsafe for the less physically well-endowed. Motorist traffic is out of control, and a hair’s breadth from total anarchy! Hardly seems the place for mere school-children.

    Yet, here we are speaking about a ban based upon this very premise, and look how quickly it becomes that the streets are perfectly safe. Safer than driving or the bus, and for school children at that. Tell me, which is it then?

    Plus, clearly this isn’t even the kind of safety they are talking about. They’re talking about the, “Protect the little white-girls!”, kind of safety. Hilarious, the educators can’t scare the poo out of the kids over traffic-safety ’cause they’re too busy scaring the poo out of ’em over strangers with candy.

    Skinned knees and bent wheels are one thing, but a car or bus is arguably a safer place to be regarding an attacker, or kidnapper. Which likely explains the impetus. Prolly not an auto-centric policy bent upon making your kids into Petrol-junkies. More likely the Nanny State chasing its own tail.

    Which is one of the principal problems with legislating emotion.

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  • Anonymous August 20, 2009 at 8:03 am


    Why do you insist on presenting a well thought out critique of the hypocritical mindset of the cycling community in Portland?

    I enjoy watching the Oregon statutes being quoted chapter and verse when they back a position (right to the road) and then being completely ignored when they are found to be inconvenient(rolling stop signs).

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  • foote August 20, 2009 at 8:28 am

    So, are bike to school bans actually on the rise? The headline makes it seem like like it, but in the article, the best I can find to support such a claim is that the safe routes to school coordinator is “hearing about it more and more.”

    Any chance of seeing some real numbers?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 20, 2009 at 8:33 am


    there are not solid numbers yet. I guess you’re right. Technically the headline is misleading. i will consider changing it.

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  • […] are increasingly facing "bans" against walking and biking to campus. Network member […]

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  • oliver August 20, 2009 at 9:23 am

    #18 & 19 I feel like I’m missing something here.

    Have or have not the Auto, Petroleum and Rubber manufacturing industries spent untold (indeed, countless) $ums trying to promote their respective industries to the detriment of all others.

    Do or do they not externalize a majority of the costs associated with these industries?

    Is not the overriding responsibility of any corporation return on investment to its shareholders?

    Do we or do we not live in an out of control litigious society where anyone in any position of authority (esp. civic or public) afraid of being sued into the dirt?

    Are you proposing that more cars on the road make it safer for everyone concerned?

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  • beth h August 20, 2009 at 9:30 am

    There are SO MANY examples of institutions meddling in family’s choices that I feel compelled to finally say out loud:

    1. I’m beginning to feel less and less sorry that I didn’t have a kid. Looking into a future of schools teaching to the test and communities legislating nearly every activity my kid could and couldn’t do, it’s really clear that any child I would’ve had could not be raised as free as I was. I rode two miles each way to and from my elementary school and THAT was what set me on the path to becoming a daily bike rider. Today’s kids have less freedom and more fear in their lives, and that’s not just a shame, it’s criminal.

    2. Home-schooling and UN-schooling look better than ever these days. If I could’ve had a kid that’s the route I would’ve taken. At least then I wouldn’t have a school or government telling me not to let me kid ride his damned bicycle.

    End of rant.

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  • […] are increasingly facing "bans" against walking and biking to campus. Network member […]

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  • […] are increasingly facing "bans" against walking and biking to campus. Network member […]

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  • Dave August 20, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Has any school district asked their local police department for overt and COVERT speed enforcement? Has any school district had the plain guts to at least talk about the size (affects visibility and perception of speed) of vehicles used by parents? We have anarchy for motorists, which makes these tragic school regulations seem necessary.

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  • […] are increasingly facing "bans" against walking and biking to campus. Network member […]

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  • Q`ztal August 20, 2009 at 10:20 am

    The police are too busy responding to crimes that are occurring to wait around for crimes to happen.
    How about we allow the schools to pay for part time, morning and afternoon only, traffic control deputies. Find the most busy body group of parents, make them take the OFFICIAL POLICE traffic training. Then give them the ability to write the punitive tickets and fines needed to make parents and high-schoolers driver safer.
    If your local school decides that you don’t need traffic control then there is no need to pay for it; this would be good for rural areas.
    We can’t just complain about unsafe street and then not fund training and enforcement.

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  • Matt Picio August 20, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Vance (#18) – I disagree that a car is a safer place to be regarding an attacker or kidnapper. Bullies can still get to the kid in school, and abduction by strangers is statistically incredibly rare – the vast majority of abductions are by people the child knows and trusts, and most commonly are committed by a non-custodial parent or guardian. There are no safety benefits to putting the child in the car, and it acts directly against teaching children self-reliance, which directly affects their safety throughout their entire life.

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  • buglas August 20, 2009 at 11:41 am

    #27 and #29
    When I moved to Arizona years ago I was warned about fines for exceeding the 15mph limit in school zones. Family members tell me it still going on. Radio stations announce the locations of patrols, and still the fines are enough to be a budgetable source of revenue for the state.
    If done consistently, it can be self funding.

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  • Dave August 20, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Q’tzal, how about if the tickets were expensive enough to fund the program and the extra police time. Speeding in a school zone should be punished by a fine that’s big enough to be a significant financial hardship.

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  • driving school newbury August 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    When global warming is such a big issue it seems incredible that we try to discourage children from walking or cycling to school :o(

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  • GlowBoy August 20, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    F—–g unbelievable. I didn’t know schools were outright banning walking or biking to school. Needless to say these schools don’t include bike racks, something I at least had available to me when I occasionally biked 8 miles to my unenlightened high school in exurban Minnesota.

    Based on what I’ve read in Jeff Mapes book, it sounds like one of the problems is that the trend nationwide is that growing suburban school districts are building fewer — and bigger — schools, further from people’s homes, on the edge of town where land is cheapest and infrastructure is crap. This is a trend that needs fighting.

    If kids aren’t allowed to bike or walk to school, then teenagers definitely should not be allowed to drive to school. If they’re going to be liable for in-transit injuries, then they should be liable for all the deaths and injuries involving teenagers that they allow to drive to school.

    For that matter, some of the most careless, irresponsible, mentally-checked-out driving I have seen over the years has been parents dropping their kids off at school in the morning. (By the way, I’m the parent of a young child myself). If we ban kids walking/biking to school for “safety” and liability reasons, then we should definitely ban parents from driving their kids to school.

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  • Q`ztal August 20, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Dave #32
    Definitely, the fine structure can be self funding until all drivers learn better. Like any chaotic system, self regulation would kick in after a while.
    I could imagine up to 5 adults at first. This would taper off as conscious users, autos and cyclists, become aware that enforcement is not temporary anymore. I suspect that after a year you might be able to go down to 1 “road guard” per 1000 students.

    Armed with portable laser speed units that are tied in to a high accuracy GPS unit, like Trimble, which further have a high resolution digital camera would allow any trained user to accurately collect speeding data or record video of an infraction in progress. If we take this to further, we could use a 3G uplink to pass final approval of the ticker to an actual officer in a office location who would then review the video and data and process the ticket thus taking the actual writing of the ticket from the parent.
    Kind of a very portable photo speed van.
    This is very do-able.

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  • Mark C August 20, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    I’m now sitting here banging my forehead on the desk. WTF? Here’s another story to illustrate how scared schools are regarding liability. My sister lives on a rural road, and has a gravel driveway a few hundred feet long leading to her house. The school bus drops at the end of her drive on the opposite site of the road. When my nephew was in about the first grade, the school district told my sister she had to be there to greet the bus, or else they wouldn’t let my nephew off. “OK,” I thought, “that doesn’t seem unreasonable.” “With the car,” my sister went on. That’s right, my sister had to drive to the end of her driveway in order to get my nephew off the bus. Talk about unbelievable!

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  • […] bans are on the rise August 20th, 2009 Wanderer Leave a comment Go to comments » Blog Archive » National organization finds that bike-to-school bans are on the …. Robert Ping, the State Network Coordinator for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership […]

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  • David Hembrow August 20, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Increasingly it is illegal over here to park a car near a school. This will be the case at all our local schools by next year to prevent the problem of driving to school.

    Some schools don’t have car parking at all, and those that do tend not to have it for students and parents. Of course, this isn’t the USA, but the Netherlands.

    The school run looks like this.

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  • Julian August 20, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    There’s a school district near Seattle (Shoreline) that bans biking to school for K-3. The policy wording is unclear on whether children can arrive as passengers on adult bike, trail-a-bike, etc, but I’ve heard that’s not allowed either. Posters have mentioned a similar policy on Mercer Island, as well.

    Links to the Shoreline school policy and me blowing off steam here:
    Bike-to-School Bans? Bring it.

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  • Dave August 21, 2009 at 7:28 am

    My school district–urban Los Angeles–didn’t allow us to cycle to school before Grade 5. I don’t have a problem with banning cycling to school for unescorted 5 to 9 year olds. I do have a big, big problem with cities’ unwillingness to really try and control the behavior of the drivers in the area around the school. Has any district ever discussed banning individual parent drop-offs?

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  • Joe August 21, 2009 at 9:31 am

    what about kids on busses without seat belts? let kids enjoy fresh air before being trapped in a classroom for hrs!

    Driving autos is NOT the the way, but in the US it seems to be forced apon many!

    ohh careful of speeding parents getting kids to school.. just sayin!

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  • buglas August 21, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I followed the link on Julian’s post (#39) and after a few more clicks found that the policy cited in that particular comment dates back to 1991. How many more of these are dinosaurs that have gone unchallenged for a generation?

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  • wsbob August 21, 2009 at 11:14 am

    “…Kind of a very portable photo speed van. This is very do-able.” Q`ztal #35

    Here on the westside, they often have such a van equipped with a digital speed indicator in the window, parked at various points on Canyon Road between West Slope and approaching the first big signaled intersection near Hwy 26. Works like magic.

    Occasionally an idiot will blast through…rewarded by the brief bright flash of the camera…but most people slow down at the speed limit or slightly less when they see this van parked 100′ or so away. The van wouldn’t even have to have a motor that runs…all it has to do is sit there…a clunker would accomplish the same result.

    This wouldn’t work in some places, because the van takes up a lot space which is likely to be the shoulder or a bike lane.

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  • jj August 21, 2009 at 11:37 am

    How about just making the speeding ticket for a school zone so prohibitively expensive that NO ONE would exceed the speed limit?

    like say, 1000$ dollars?

    Then sting them.

    Oh, wait…thats too easy and makes too much sense.

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  • […] active transportation. Robert Ping of the National Partnership reported that an alarming number of school principals do not allow children to bike to school because of liability […]

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  • Rich September 4, 2009 at 5:16 am

    I am a member of a Board of Education in New Jersey and following a lawsuit in Pleasantville we were advised by legal counsel that we have to exercise “reasonable care” of students from the time they leave their front door until they walk back in their front door, not just when they arrive on school grounds (thank you NJ Supreme Court!!) Our community is an old community with narrow roads and parking on both sides of the street. We would love to have students bike to school instead of having parents drive them. The issue, at least in New Jersey, is the liability.

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  • Driving Lessons Billingham March 16, 2012 at 3:23 am

    When I was a kid we all walked to school. The tought of someone getting a lift to school in a car was unheard of. Stop the madness before we become even more obese.

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