News

'Walking and rolling' to school

Growing numbers of student bicyclists defy trends -- and traffic

Defying national trends and increasing auto congestion, a growing number of Palo Alto students are making their way to school each morning by bike or on foot.

The fun of "walking and rolling" was celebrated this week as campuses across Palo Alto tried to boost the numbers and stress the benefits.

Walk & Roll Week culminates Sunday (Oct. 9) with Bike Palo Alto!, a citywide event offering free bike inspections, safety tips and route maps.

"This is an energizing event, reminding everyone of the simple joy of walking and biking to school, the health benefits of regular daily activity and the need for safe places to walk and bike," said Penny Ellson of the Palo Alto PTA Council Traffic Safety Committee.

Bicycling habits have been building among Palo Alto students for at least a decade, after falling somewhat between 1985 and 2000, according to schools' annual bicycle counts and reports from students themselves.

Palo Alto High School this month reported 862 bicyclists on a single day -- nearly 46 percent of the student body -- up from 220 in 1999. Gunn reported 696 bicyclists -- about 37 percent of the student body -- up from 180 in 1999.

The number of kids bicycling to Jordan Middle School went from 333 in 2003 to 547 -- nearly 56 percent of the student body -- last fall. At JLS cycling numbers went from 200 in 2003 to 457 in 2010 and at Terman from 150 to 199 in the same period.

"We try not to compare schools to each other because the variability of school commute routes and attendance boundaries is significant -- and this affects the numbers," Ellson said. "It is not a level playing field, and the trend line is what's important."

Palo Alto's trend runs counter to the nation as a whole, where just 13 percent of kids walk or bike today compared to 66 percent 30 years ago, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Local parent volunteers, police and city officials have teamed with a national nonprofit, Safe Routes to School, to promote walking and bicycling with an eye toward safety.

During peak school commute times, the Palo Alto Police Department Traffic Team puts a priority on school routes, ticketing people who drive in bike lanes or commit other safety violations near campuses. The police department also funds 29 crossing guards at busy intersections.

The PTA organizes bicycle education for elementary students and traffic-safety representatives on each campus.

Palo Alto Board of Education President Melissa Baten Caswell lauded the bicycle-promotion effort and asked community members to help create a safe environment for kids to bike.

"Growing independent is part of growing up -- healthy children need a community that encourages them to build skills and to venture out," Caswell said.

Chris Kenrick

Comments

Posted by Bicycle Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2011 at 9:50 am

Great programs!!!...and they really work. It is wonderful to see kids moving about the community independently again.--so good for their physical and emotional health.


Posted by good job, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

Very glad the the city is investing safe and efficient bicycle routes to our public schools.


Posted by betteryet, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

Our schools can establish biycle groups and kids can watching out and socializing with each other, such as schools organize bay side road biycling at weekend or to the Stanford Shooping center for middle school girls.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:40 am

This is good news at so many levels.

It is worth noting though that comparing Palo Alto trends with other areas in the nation is not a good idea.

To begin with our weather is good for most of the school year and Palo Alto is generally quite flat. Both of these are ideal conditions for walking and cycling.

The most obvious reason is that in other parts of the nation, school buses are and always have been the normal way for kids to get to school. For many, there is no need or sensible reason for any other mode of transport to school. Palo Alto got rid of its school buses eons ago for reasons not worth digging up.

As a consequence, the need for many students to walk or bike to school is because it is the only viable form or transport other than the family car. Many still go to school by car and many families opt for this regardless of any other reason.

Some students are able to use the free shuttle (usually in North Palo Alto) and some can use the VTA buses (usually in south Palo Alto). But the truth is that there are no options for many parts of Palo Alto other than car, bike or walking. This is particularly true of our high schools. On top of that, many of our students have to take along a lot of stuff with them, school projects, sports stuff, music stuff, after school stuff, etc. We do have enough text books so that students can keep one at home and still use a classroom copy, so at least that can minimalize the amount of weight in a backpack.

I commend every student who gets to school independently by walking or bike. It is one of the best lessons to be learned on independence, health and self esteem.


Posted by PA Native, a resident of Duveneck School
on Oct 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

We live a bit far from our elementary. However, each year, we make an effort to participate in Walk & Roll, and each year I grudgingly do it, but then am happy I did it. It's fantastic that the schools distribute prizes for the kids who participate - it's a great incentive. I grew up in Palo Alto in the 70s when it was the norm to bike.


Posted by betteryet, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

The bikes are not very well designed.I have seen in other countries, they have a huge basket hooked on bike on the front, kids put their bagpacks inside, and it can take a lot of weight.


Posted by baskets, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

Bicycles with baskets are available in local bike shops. Why kids don't use them is more a matter of style than availability.


Posted by betteryet, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

Parents and kids should put the safety before anything.If they carry backpacks on their backs, it can very easily lose balance.


Posted by Anxious Driver, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I drive down Ross Road every morning and see large groups of students riding to school - elementary, middle, and high school. It is great to see them out and about and getting the exercise they need. However, as an early morning driving - driving into the sun - I am also concerned by how many of these kids zip through stop signs without any hesitancy of waiting for cars that are already at the four way intersection. Since I've been driving to work this way for years, I don't autimatically assume it is my turn to go - I wait to see if large groups of kids will just ride thru. Another concern I have are the large groups of kids who ride down the center of the road and who also wear head phones. In light of the recent accident in East Palo Alto where a six year old was killed in a cross walk, I wish that parents, the schools, and safety officers stress safety.


Posted by Bicycling Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Actually, PAUSD students receive Traffic Safety education K-6 in school. when parents regularly practice these skills on-street with kids when they are young, they grow into kids with hard-wired traffic skills who can navigate streets independently and safely. Eventually, these children make safer drivers.

Like most things we teach our children, it is all about supervised PRACTISE when kids are young. Get your kids out walking and biking as often as possible. If you are not sure what to teach them, visit this site Web Link

You'll be glad you did. Aside from being a great learning experience, biking together is fun!

(Oh...To give credit where it is due, PAPD budget funds 29 crossing guards at critical intersections citywide and the PAPD Traffic Team focuses on school commute routes during school commute times. They work closely with the PTA and schools to teach and enforce good traffic skills. Thank you, PAPD, City of Palo Alto, PAUSD and PTA!!!)


Posted by Good Example, a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm

"And a little child shall lead them". The children are teaching the adults. Will the message get though to people like Diana Diamond?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Wait until it rains.


Posted by Louise, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Walter and other skeptics -- Guess what, it was cold and even rained right at the start of school on Wednesday, but lots of kids still walked and biked to school all over Palo Alto!

Don't believe me? Check out the full bike racks in the second photo accompanying the story above! Picture was taken on Wednesday and it was clearly wet and gray.

At Escondido, the bikes were counted after the tardy bell. Amazingly, there were 80% of the number of bikes counted on a lovely day in September! Families in my neighborhood don't let a little rain stop them from biking/walking on the new multi-use path along Stanford Avenue -- it actually takes less time to bike than it does to drive and sit in the backed up traffic turning into and out of the school.

Bravo for the kids and parents who are making greener choices on how to get to school -- each resulting in one less car congesting the streets near our schools. Those who live too far away to walk or bike can carpool.


Posted by good job, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm

This is California. How often does it rain so hard that bicycling becomes dangerous or even really uncomfortable? Less than a dozen days per year. Just ignore the whiners and keep up the good work.


Posted by Love to Bike, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2011 at 11:11 pm

It poured a couple of days this week. Intrepid kids biked and walked anyway. One Escondido family said, "We EAT rain for breakfast!" Go, Palo Alto kids! You are an inspiration!


Posted by Biking in the rain, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 7, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Can you bike in the rain? Check this out....Web Link


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2011 at 4:41 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Kinda gets you, them stopping for red lights? And riding with a bumberchute? Get out of here. While biking in the rain is possible, it is uncomfortable and less safe.


Posted by I Have A Dream, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

I have a dream today: One day on the leafy streets of Palo Alto, every Palo Altoan (including Diana Diamond and Walter Wallis) will be pedalling along happily on two wheels! I have a dream today ...


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I had a nightmare today. One day on the leafy streets of Palo Alto, every Palo Altoan (including Diana Diamond and Walter [E} Wallis) will be pedaling along happily [sic] on two wheels! I have a nightmare today.


Posted by Richard, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Bicycling is the most efficient means of transportation on our planet, but not everyone can do it. I am a long-time bicyclist but because of an injury and related surgery a couple of years ago I was unable to ride a bike (or drive a car) for several months. It is great to encourage people to bike, but we also need to understand that 100% biking is not realistic, and we need to support and accomodate those who can't. On the other hand, those who are healthy enough to bike can do a lot better than we are now doing. Here is an amazing video of bicyclists in the snow in the Netherlands:


Web Link


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2011 at 4:37 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Note: Bikes are separated from auto traffic, bikes observe traffic signals.


Posted by Observer, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 9, 2011 at 7:12 am

If we could just get the selfish horrific Palo Alto drivers to slow down and not worry about "getting in front of the other guy" our kids might be healthy _AND_ safe.


Posted by good job, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2011 at 7:26 am

Steve Jobs talks about bicycling: Web Link


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Observer, the purpose of driving is to get somewhere, not to idly mosey about. The vast majority of Palo Alto drivers are careful and safe. Those Norwegians share their way with pedestrians, not cars, and they stop at stop signals. Both of these habits would well be emulated here.


Posted by Alex, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm

They're Dutch.


Posted by Richard, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Yes, they are Dutch but more important is that they are human beings. They behave differently because they have different traffic laws (MUCH more strict regarding driver liability) and they have been taught to think differently about traffic safety. If we want their habits to be emulated here then we need to understand their liability system, their education system, their transit system and their land use laws to understand how they have developed the culture, attitudes and habits that they have. It is not simply a matter of building a few paths along the sides of roads; it is about fundamentally changing the way we think about how we get from one place to another.


Posted by I Have a Dream, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

The day that I see Diana Diamond cheerfully bicycling along Bryant Street on a crisp fall afternoon I will know that hearts and minds have truly changed in our fair city of Palo Alto.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I recall videos of Chinese citizens all assembled for morning calisthenics. Willingly? Suuurre! I imagine this would also gladden Dream.


Posted by oh, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 10, 2011 at 6:57 pm

it all depends, usually the park are full of people doing calisthenics for their own health, but if you see them doing those during the visits of our presidents, then it could be staged.the urgly the unfit will be cut off from the group.


Posted by Louise, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 10, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Why does the concept of encouraging more Palo Altans to bike more places more often threaten Walter so much? There's no coercion involved and invoking of socialist bogeymen is patently ridiculous.

Our political system at all levels heavily subsidizes driving and neglects investment in all other forms of transportation and I don't anticipate a balanced transportation system to exist in my lifetime.

But each family who **chooses** to walk, bike, carpool or use the available buses and shuttles to get to school on a particular day means one less car in the way of those who choose to drive. Not everyone has that option, but many do.

Bottom line: Fewer drivers clogging up the streets near our schools makes a huge difference -- getting to school safely is easier for everybody.

I'm no zealot. I drive on most trips over 3 miles. But I realize I have a choice, and it makes my day to see so many elementary kids learning good habits and street skills from their parents, and to see increased numbers of middle and high school students choosing active and non-polluting commute options.

Bravo for choices that make a difference!


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2011 at 8:18 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The element of gentle coercion is what makes the difference. "The day that I see Diana Diamond cheerfully bicycling along Bryant Street..."


Posted by Encouragement, a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2011 at 11:14 am

Lighten up, Walter!

People don't have to walk or bicycle if they don't wish to do so.

If they do, they reap the personal fitness and health benefits. And the rest of us benefit by fewer cars clogging up the roads and cleaner air too.

Seems like a no-brainer to me that we should encourage people to walk and bicycle around town.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It starts out as simple encouragement, then progresses to discouraging the less favored mode.


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