Confessions of a Bike to School Advocate

Panda enjoying the ride

I think I’ve mentioned one or two (or a hundred) times over the past seven years that I’m a bike to school advocate. If you’ve been reading Car Free Days for any amount of time, you’ve most likely surmised that I’m a tiny bit passionate about encouraging kids and families to bike and walk to school.

One message I’ve repeated over the years is how easy it is to bike and walk to school. Since my first kid started pre-school in 2004, I’ve talked about the simplicity and the joy and the fun of biking to school with kids.

But lately, I’ve started to wonder about the ease of this whole bike-to-school thing. 


While I’ve encouraged and cheered and high-fived those who do, I’ve also judged those who don’t. I might have whined and complained and ranted a little bit about the number of parents who still drive their kids to school, even when they attend a neighborhood school and live within walking and biking (or yellow school bus) distance from school. Why do so many parents drive their kids to school? Why would they want to deal with the nightmare school drop-off zones, and the headaches that go along with driving kids to school? Why? Why? Why?


Turns out I’m just a little bit misguided. I thought if I talked about how easy it is to bike and walk to school. And how fun it is and how rewarding it is, people would start to get it, and join me. If I just emphasized all the positives; by talking and smiling and biking, all of our traffic and health problems might just melt away. Isn’t that how it works? Pollyanna thought so. But after 7+ years, it’s time to admit that Pollyanna can be a little bit annoying.

Maybe I was wrong?

The truth is, biking to school with kids is far from easy. If we’re going for ease, a car is clearly the best choice: you push the gas pedal, and it goes;  you don’t even have to push it that hard! Biking and walking is often not simple. And sometimes it’s a huge pain in the ass. There are bikes to fix and maintain. And gear to buy. And stuff to carry. And itchy helmets to wear. And hills to climb. And weather to deal with. And heavy backpacks. And wet feet. And feelings of helplessness. And stress. And. And And.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think biking and walking is worthwhile. Growth doesn’t come from easy experiences, growth comes from difficult ones. My kids are definitely better off from years of getting to school under their own power. Even if biking and walking with kids is hard, and even if it’s sometimes stressful and wet, I still believe it’s the right thing to do most of the time. (But I’ll admit, I also drive my kids to school on occasion and sometimes that’s the right thing to do too).

One Day a Week

You’ve read the stats: “Half of the trips in America can be completed within a 20-minute bike ride, and a quarter of trips are within a 20-minute walk. Yet, the vast majority of these short trips are taken by automobile.” (Federal Highway Administration) We can reduce many of those car trips by biking or walking to school, even just one day a week. And that’s the right thing for our kids. It’s the right thing for our neighbors. And for our neighborhoods and communities. And for our health. And for our neighbors’ health. And for our communities’ health. Back to the kids; most of all, it’s the right thing for our kids. And it’s the right thing for their future.

Lose the Smugness, Anne

They say having perspective and reflecting on the past can foster growth. Well I’ve grown. I’ve reflected. And I realize I’ve been a very smug girl. And I’m sorry. I’ve learned a few things after fourteen years as a parent and nine years as a bike to school advocate; even if I  don’t understand why so many trips to school happen in cars, I can suppress judgement. I really have no idea what’s going on in the lives of the people who habitually drive their kids to school. And who am I to judge their transportation choices? People have complicated lives. They deal with a lot of crap on a daily basis. They have annoying teenagers. They have sleepy kids. Their kids are bullied on school buses. They have stressful jobs. They are worried and stressed out from caring for aging parents. They are in poor health. And they have two or three jobs and still live in poverty. People are getting divorced, and they are completely overwhelmed.  They suffer from depression. Maybe the thought of biking and walking instead of driving is just too overwhelming? It might be one of those things they want to do, but they just can’t add it to their lives right now. And that’s ok.

2014/2015 Pledge

As I wrap up 2014, I promise to continue to strive for Car Free Days (with the emphasis on days, and diving less). And I promise to continue to advocate for safer streets in our neighborhoods and cities. I still believe that reducing unnecessary car trips is a simple way to achieve those goals.  I’ll keep riding and internally cheering and high-fiving, when I see you on a bike or on your feet. But if I see you in your car, there is no need to hide from me. I promise not to judge. Because I’m not a stranger to the school drop-off zone either, I’ve been in that early morning line, sometimes with really bad bed-head and wearing pajamas under my raincoat.

 – Anne

2 responses to “Confessions of a Bike to School Advocate

  1. For us, what works is getting to school, using different modes of transportation: walking, riding bikes, or taking the bus. Driving was a rarity. Now that our children get to school on their own, the oldest is a bus rider, while our youngest boy is all about riding his bike. Our go-getter-physical little guy is committed to riding in all weather, rain, and now snow. He had us put studded tires on his bike. One 8F morning he left the house wearing sweatshirt, no hat, but with mittens. 20 minutes later he returned home, with beet red ears (of course!), because he forgot something for school, not because he couldn’t make it. I mobilized, warmed the car and drove him to school. And yes, I was wearing my pajamas. A down parka can cover most anything.

  2. Hi Annie — Thanks for the comment! Multi-modal works well for us too. Another thing I’ve learned (especially parenting teens), is the importance of being flexible! Very, very flexible.

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