This issue resonates with me.
When my family and I moved to Florida in 1999, my parents chose our house specifically for the school district it was in. We lived two blocks from the elementary school, so walking or riding our bikes was expected of us. Every day for two years I rode my bike through our neighborhood and across the street to school, as did my brothers. My little sister still walks or rides to school, and will for the next month until she graduates.
When I moved up to middle school, which for me was two miles away, I continued to ride to school. It gave me complete freedom: I chose when I left home and left school. I could participate in any extracurricular activities I wanted without having to worry about negotiating a ride home from a friend’s parent. If I wanted to stop by a friend’s house on the way back, or get a treat from the local Italian ice shop, I could do so without a second thought.
Most of my peers at that age were constantly complaining about how their parents were restricting them and not letting them do what they wanted. They would yell at their moms to pick them up over their cell phones, and then stand around waiting for half an hour while their parents drove to get them. I’ however, only needed to carry change for a payphone in my backpack in case I got a flat tire or got stuck in the rain. My bike gave me the freedom and independence that my friends craved, and let me build trust between my parents and myself by proving my self-reliance. By the time I got into high school, I had the freedom to ride the entire length of the Pinellas Trail if I wanted. I could get out of school in Seminole and ride 25 miles north to Tarpon Springs if I wanted, as long as I was home before dark.
When I entered high school, which started at 7 a.m., I still continued to ride my bike to school. And to marching band, which had its own hectic schedule. And to friends’ houses. And to work, 4-5 miles away from home. And just for fun after school. Heck, the only thing that stopped me from riding was breaking my leg during my senior year. I didn’t even have a driver’s license before then; I didn’t need one. My bike was cheaper than paying for a car, gas and insurance. And it was a lot more fun.
There were more benefits to riding my bike than just freedom from other people’s schedules and a good relationship with my parents. It helped my stay fit and healthy throughout my school days. It kept me out of trouble after school: instead of drinking and drugs, I had band and bike riding. Riding to school led to involvement in the sport of cycling, which led to getting a job in sales at a bike shop, which completely changed the way I view and interact with people (and paid for a lot of expenses in college.) It also woke my body and mind up before class, which helped an awful lot when trigonometry was the first subject of the morning.
When I have kids, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be riding their bikes to school. I want my kids to be raised with the sense of reliability and trust I had with my parents when I was growing up, and part of that entails giving them the power to get themselves to places without relying on me. It frustrates me to no end that there are people out there who would deny kids the ability to bike and walk to school just because they don’t want to cut the umbilical cord they share with their own children. Kudos to Bicycling for covering the issue so well.