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.