Monday, February 1, 2010

Why Portland Rules #477 Safe Routes To School

Ah to live in cities where kids are literally banned from riding their bikes to school by the tyranny of those seeking "to keep kids safe." So wonderful. So green. So progressive. Not. I am sure that the Saratoga policy wonks have the best intentions though - just simply transferring their role of “helicopter parent” to "helicopter policy maker” or “helicopter school board" to “helicopter government.” After all, if people are more and more like the helicopter parents it makes sense that those same people will eventually become large and in charge of all things, thus able to spread their joy of helicoptering to all who would otherwise like to be free of such tyranny.
I was proud to read in that case that a lone student - and clearly non-helicopter parents (how DARE they!) - are bucking the powers.  The rebels letting their kid ride his bike “are part of a growing number of Americans challenging the sedentary habits of today's youths and what they view as overanxious "helicopter" parenting.” Indeed. God forbid our kids actually do something on their own like riding a bike without their mommies and daddies right there every nanosecond.
So imagine my surprise (or should be a non-surprise for Portland) when in the mail I get a great flyer about the Portland Safe Routes to School Program. This is a partership between several organizations from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, City of Portland, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, and several other groups. It is worth checking out - if cycling has any possible future as a daily transportation method - this is how you do it right to get the word out. Cycling does not have to be just for full-kit roadies and Lance Armstrong wannabes. Cycling does not have to be exclusive to other countries as decent transportation. Clearly the folks in Portland are less helicopterish than some.
The flyer I received is an order form for FREE materials - maps for walking and biking, educational materials about road rules, public transit info, tips for drivers, patches, window stickers, etc. Just check the items and send it in. It notes effectively that the goals for their cycling program is not just for schools, but also to connect parks, dining, and other neighborhoods. The postage pre-paid form notes, “All materials will be delivered by bicycle!” Now that is truly awesome!
City Planners, policy makers, and would be helicopterumans should take note: We should be encouraging ridership and general community health through these types of programs. Young people themselves are less excited about driving than they were in the past so its time to shift focus:

“The quest to get a driver's license at 16 -- long an American rite of passage -- is on the wane among the digital generation, which no longer sees the family car as the end-all of social life...”
It would be interesting to see a similar study for the Portland area. In cities that have REAL options to driving and an established reputation for things like good transit and cycling, I wonder if those numbers could be even higher. With the soaring costs of fuel, pollution, and insurance - riding a bike or taking public transit looks mighty fine.
Portland Rules. Again.

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