Will your kids be biking back to school?

Try a “bike train” like Pedalheads. A parent at each end. One parent blocks the intersections as the train rolls through. Photo by HOLLY REID.
Try a “bike train” like Pedalheads. A parent at each end. One parent blocks the intersections as the train rolls through. Photo by HOLLY REID.

Thanks to the pandemic, “back-to-school” this year promises to be like no other. Active transportation to school, whether walking, wheeling or biking, is taking on greater importance amidst unease about buses, public transit and traffic congestion around schools. If you’ve been biking with your kids all summer, will you let them bike to school?

Are your kids ready to ride?

Children under the age of 14 can ride on the sidewalk but they still need to be able to ride in a straight line, stop safely at intersections, signal their intentions, and give way to pedestrians, ringing their bell to pass. Riding with your child will help you assess whether they have the bike handling skills, safety knowledge and maturity to ride to school with confidence. Remember to make sure your child’s bike is in good working order and the helmet fits right.

Secure bike parking

Bike theft is a big concern in Leaside. Wilmar Kortleever, a former co-chair of the school council that helped bring additional bike parking racks and other safety measures to Leaside High School, reports that new security cameras are now angled to monitor the bike racks and deter theft. He advises that parents work with their school’s administration and parent council to make sure there is ample secure bike parking and the kids use it.

Find a safe route

Leaside has a number of quiet streets with speed limits of 30 km/hr, making it easy to come up with a safe route. Angela Kennedy, Toronto Catholic School Board trustee for Leaside, suggests parents work together to identify the best route and organize bike stops along the way where kids and parents can meet up and ride to school together.

Sam Perry, with CultureLink’s Bike-to-School Project, recommends going on practice rides first with your kids to decide the best way. “Kids age 14 and up are riding on the road, so a safe route is crucial. The cycling option on Google maps can show different options to explore. And there is safety in numbers. If high school kids can buddy-up to ride, they will be more visible to motorists.”

Rachel Chernos Lin, Toronto District School Board trustee for Leaside, adds, “If you are biking to work, why not build your child’s route into your commute and ride together? With more parents working from home, walking, wheeling or biking to school with your child is a fun way to start your day.”

What parents can do

School boards have been promoting active transportation for years. A recent motion before the Toronto District School Board calls for more support for active transportation, including protected travel routes, complete streets for school zones, permanent “quiet streets” near schools, and greater promotion and education around active transportation. Parents are key for making lasting change, and starting an Active Transportation committee at your school is a good place to start. Chernos Lin notes that in-class volunteering is likely to be restricted, so if parents want to assist at school, getting involved in active transportation is a terrific way to help.

Resources and Inspiration

Ontario Active School Travel
https://ontarioactiveschooltravel.ca

880 Cities on School Streets
https://www.880cities.org/torontos-first-ever-school-streets-pop-up-will-create-a-car-free-zone-that-prioritizes-pedestrians-especially-children-walking-to-school-in-the-lead-up-to-halloween/

TDSB EcoSchools Program
https://www.tdsb.on.ca/ecoschools/

Bike-to-School Project
https://www.culturelink.ca/services/health-and-recreation/bike-to-school/

About Holly Reid 24 Articles
Holly Reid is a recreational road rider and cycling commuter. An advocate for safe cycling, she is a member of Cycle Don Valley Midtown, Cycle Toronto’s advocacy group for Wards 15/16.