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Bicycling Banned at Westport Middle School

By David Hiller, September 5, 2001

Middle school students will be banned from bicycling to Bedford Middle School in Westport, CT this year.

Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon made the decision after consulting with Westport Police Chief William Chiarenzelli, a known antagonist to bicyclists, before the new school year commenced this past Wednesday. Landon believes that a recent renovation to the school will create large volumes of new traffic.

Most of the traffic, Landon states, is caused by parents driving their children to school, rather than letting them take buses, walk or bike. Landon said he can understand parents picking their children up after school, because of extracurricular activities, but said in many cases, parents drive their children to school in the morning because they can get an extra half hour or so more of sleep.

What kind of place do we live in where kids can't walk or bike to school?

Forty years ago, half of all U.S. children walked or biked to school. Now, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that number has fallen to 10 percent. The Surface Transportation Policy Project report “High Mileage Moms” found that the number of children walking to school dropped 23 percent between 1990 and 1995 alone. At the same time, the CDC has declared childhood obesity an epidemic.

Towns unsafe for young pedestrians generate extra car trips and require us to tolerate more diesel buses polluting our neighborhood streets. Hazardous walking conditions are a factor for taxpayers as Connecticut has some of the highest per pupil transportation costs in the nation. The result of policies such as those pursued in Westport is that busing has become a major cost to school boards across the state.

Banning walking and bicycling also has serious public health implications and displays shortsightedness. If concerns about vehicle traffic and pedestrian safety have driven the decision, why not look into solutions that enhance the pedestrian environment while controlling vehicle speed and reinforcing safe driving.

Traffic calm your neighborhoods with curb extensions, elevated crosswalks, signs, lighting, street trees and landscaping to promote a healthy balance between the automobile and pedestrians/bicyclists. Locate new schools within easy walking distance of existing communities. Provide proper pedestrian facilities. Enforce traffic regulations around schools, ticketing double parked and illegally parked drop-off and pick-up parents. Encourage parents to walk with their children.

For our part, the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition has launched a "Safe Routes to School" program to assist communities with their pedestrian and bicycle safety issues. It is a collaborative, community centered program that acknowledges the desirability of pedestrian friendly places and the necessity of walking and bicycling for kids too young to drive. The Westport School Board did not nominate any of its schools for our Safe Routes program.

David Hiller is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition.

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