Bike Durham pushes for sustainable routes to school

As Riverside continues to deal with bus driver shortages and increased traffic on and around campus, one local organization wants to make it easier for students to bike to school.

Bike Durham started ten years ago to advocate for making the streets safer for people to bike. It has since broadened to support safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation for everyone in Durham regardless of who they are or where they live. A local non-profit organization, it gives free classes to DPS schools and trains 800-1000 students per year on bike safety. Bike Durham also advocates for the city to make more bike infrastructure, such as bike lanes and trails. 

One of its recent projects was to add a green bike box and a more separated bike lane on Erwin road.

“If you are able to walk or bike to school at any age, it is better for the health of the kid, feelings of learned independence, students come to school better ready to learn because they’ve been moving their bodies, and getting their blood flowing,” said Bike Durham’s director, John Tallmadge.

Tallmadge believes alternative transportation methods are as important as ever. Walking and biking to school reduces those issues, and many more.

Bike Durham hosts walk and bike to school days to encourage students to try it.  Tallmadge said the goal of these days are to bring attention to the benefits, and to spark interest among families to make biking to school an option they would consider. 

“A lot of schools, because there isn’t safe infrastructure around the school, are sometimes limited to a walk around campus,” said Tallmadge. “It’s an opportunity for administration to not only get kids out and invite families in, but to share the message about the importance of physical activity.”

He also said fewer people driving cars and riding buses puts less stress on the school to provide transportation. A lack of infrastructure for residents to access school without the use of cars, buses, or public transportation, creates questions about equity. Most DPS schools do not have sidewalks leading up to the property, and many are on roads that are unsafe to walk or bike on. 

Equitable transportation means regardless of race or income, people have equal access to jobs, schools, groceries or any other necessary places. 

“Right now, with the system that we’ve devised, you have good access to many of those things if you have a reliable car, and you have unpredictable access if you don’t,” said Tallmadge. “People have to cross busy streets that are not designed for people to be walking on, few places are designed for people to bike.” 

Biking to school can also improve student health. A CDC study showed that physical exercise reduces the risk of depression in kids aged 6-13, and another study showed that children and adolescents who are more physically active showed better general mental health. Children who walk or bike to school are also more likely to be active throughout the rest of the day and to be more active as adults. It also means parents don’t have to waste time picking up and dropping off their kids. 

Additionally, walking or biking to school can boost performance in the classroom. A study by Nordic Science found that children who bike or walk to school have higher levels of concentration in comparison to those who are driven. Children who are more active have been shown to have higher cognitive function later in life as well. 

Biking to school is good for the environment as well. Just a moderate increase in bike use can save 6 to 14 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year, according to a study from UCLA. 

Another type of pollution caused by cars is noise pollution. Biking to school keeps neighborhoods and busy streets quieter, also according to UCLA 

Reducing car transportation also means money is saved on gas and vehicle maintenance. 

Biking to school and creating bike infrastructure can save the district and the city money, too. 

“We’re spending a lot of our education money on moving kids around the community with the school bus system, and that includes kids who live pretty close to the schools,” said Tallmadge.

Bicycle paths and sidewalks are much cheaper to build than new roads. It is also very cheap and fast to add in bike lanes with a buffer zone when repaving roads. Current roads can also be repurposed for multiple modes of transportation. For example, a four lane road can be turned into a two lane road with a turn lane, and bike lanes on each side. The City of Durham will be doing this on a section of Fayetteville Street this summer with the help of bike Durham.

Many countries around the world are much less car dependent and have more developed biking and walking infrastructure. In many places, everywhere within a city can be easily accessed by bicycle. In America, where almost all transportation infrastructure is centered around cars, it can be extremely difficult and unsafe to bike around cities, especially for children biking to school. 

“I have worked in Central and South America, Nepal and Haiti and felt safer walking or  riding a bike to schools than I do on my daily bike commute to the school where I currently work here in Durham,” said Stephen Mullaney, who is an adviser with Bike Durham, in an email.

You don’t have to go to Nepal or Haiti to see good bike friendly infrastructure though, Cary was ranked the twenty-fourth best city in the country for biking by Cary has a developed system of bike routes, and pedestrian overpasses and underpasses so people can cross busy streets safely. 

According to Tallmadge, there are many things Durham can do to improve the city for bikers and pedestrians. There are some new things they could build, like bike paths or curb extensions, but a lot of the things that can be done are maintenance projects. Right now there is a huge backlog for sidewalk maintenance and there are many miles of gaps in sidewalks. Many of the busiest streets are also maintained by NCDOT, and the city needs to do more to influence the state’s decisions.

For some people, biking or walking to school is impossible, either because they live too far away or because it’s unsafe. But they could still look for shorter and safer routes near their home that they can walk or bike. 

“Everyone should have access to safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation regardless of who they are or where they live,” says Bike Durham’s mission statement.

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