By Michael Barry

Each morning we are out the door, on our bikes taking the kids to school and going to work. For the kids, like us, it is a refreshing start to the day. The ride to their school is five kilometers. We wind our way through the neighbourhood, into the cemetery, which is more like a park, and on to a dirt path which takes us to the school. In the evenings, they ride home alone or together when their schedules mesh. We try to ride year around but sometimes are limited due to ice, rain and snow. On any given day it either takes the same amount of time or is quicker to ride than drive, they’re getting some exercise, we have a few minutes to chat, the kids see wildlife (coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, cardinals, blue jays, foxes, etc), and, studies show their day at school will be more productive and will help decrease anxiety.  But I’m amazed at how few kids walk or ride to school. The streets in and around the schools are lined with cars waiting to enter the grounds while the bike racks are usually empty. Most children are only travelling a few kilometres, or less to their school.

Kids traveling to school by car often take on the stress of nasty interactions between road raged drivers.  The car line up at the drop-off often causes  tardiness and anxiety for kids and parents. Meanwhile the bike racks are often empty and easily accessible, providing an easy and lower stress start to the school day.

Other than providing bike racks and an annual ‘Bike To School’ day, few schools are doing anything to encourage children to use other forms of transport. The infrastructure in many cities doesn’t make commuting safe or easy. But, driving children to protect them isn’t going to solve the problem. The schools should have programs to teach safe cycling and they should be encouraging, or even incentivizing, children to commute by bus, bike or foot.

In Boulder, Colorado the schools have been proactive in developing incentivized cycling programs. The Boulder Valley School Board developed a Trip Tracker  in partnership with local businesses, which encourages and rewards students and families for using alternatives to single family car transportation to BVSD schools.  The program goal is to significantly reduce car traffic and associated air pollution in front of schools thereby enhancing student safety and health.​   Students are rewarded monthly for walking, biking, carpooling and riding either the school bus or RTD.  Students receive a Trip Tracker dollar for every five ‘Green Trips’ to or from school that can be used like cash at over 50 local businesses.

Along with the Trip Tracker program, they have also launched courses that provide skills and safety training for students in fourth through seventh grades. Expert cycling instructors using standards of the League of American Bicyclists in tandem with physical education teachers lead the courses. Bicycles and helmets are available for loan to students.

Other organizations that are really helping to promote cycling to school include the Safe Routes Partnership  and Safe Routes Info  which are working to make it easier and safer for youth to ride or walk to school across the nation.

Studies have shown and exercise before school improves focus, academic performance, lowers obesity levels / BMI (body mass index), develops deeper social connections to  friends and school and results in greater happiness and satisfaction with life.  In addition to the health, social and performance benefits, cycling is fun and a great way to get to know your city better and experience first hand the seasons, the changes and to connect with people in the community.

In North American cities there are too many cars. The streets are jammed during rush hours, paralyzed by the congestion as cars sit idling at traffic lights, or on highways. Inside the cars, the occupants sit equally as idle, waiting as their impatience grows, not wanting to give an inch, and not wanting to lose a minute.  They eye their GPS incessantly looking for a faster route, but there is none. Their irritation grows with each red light, with each lull in their movement so, they yell at other drivers, at cyclists, at pedestrians, they hit their horns, they squeal their tires. We need to create the infrastructure to help people become less reliant on their cars. By educating and encouraging children on using other forms of transport we will not only improve the physical and mental health of the population but also decrease the rapid degradation of the natural environment.

After I drop the kids at school, I ride across town to the workshop.  I pedal by lined up cars and thread my way through the quieter neighbourhoods, down back alleys, through parks and along bike lanes. The rides are often the best bit of the day.





9 thoughts on “Cycling to school

  1. Good recommendation for kids and parents. It helps with weight control as well, and does reduce traffic and long waiting in lines for parents in cars. MMD

  2. Hey Michael, what a well written and timely article. With your permission, I am copying this to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, the school board and the Nanimo local of the BC Teachers’ Federation. Let me know if this is OK with you.

    Peter McC

  3. Your mention of year round commuting to school in all weather reminds me of my childhood in the 1950s. Not only were there well used bike racks at the schools, but the racks had a roof in rainy Washington state, The weather there is similar to coastal British Columbia where I now live. And in retirement I still commute to shopping, Early acquired habits become life-long. In my 70s I am still enjoying riding, at least shorter distances at lower speeds.

  4. Beautiful, well-written piece. Looking forward to becoming a parent and passing down this knowledge.

    1. Thank you. Seeing the world from a bicycle with your children gives them a unique perspective on the world an environment. I feel I learn things from them daily while we ride.

  5. Thanks for writing this wonderful article. I’ve commuted to work for years and tried to make many of the same points to whoever would listen. Alas things are changing too slowly.

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