Principal to Students: Thanks but No Thanks
I cannot imagine a school without bike racks. And yet, that is the status quo at Bridgewater-Raritan High School in New Jersey. So the student environmental club raised $2000 (!) for bike racks to donate to the school.
More than a week ago, the carbon-conscious students offered to buy and install a bike rack at the school, but were baffled by the response. Principal James Riccobono declined the offer.
"It didn't seem that logical. It would be at no cost to them," Slosberg, 18, said yesterday as she slipped on her bike helmet and prepared for a nearly 20-minute ride home.
"Actually, they said no on Earth Day," remarked Katherine Dransfield, a senior who has tried, with a group of other students, to start a bike club. "Essentially what they told us was that they didn't want to promote biking as a way to get to school."
Slosberg and Dransfield said Riccobono expressed concerns over the safety of students jostling with the heavy bus and car traffic in front of the school and biking along busy Garretson Road.
Or, as has been remarked elsewhere, maybe he was concerned with drivers on Garretson Road being inconvenienced.
Offended by the snub, students promptly began planning a response. Yesterday, more than 50 students rode their bikes to school, commuting in pairs and groups. After studying up on state biking laws -- and carrying copies with them -- the students legally tethered their bikes in conspicuous clusters around lamp posts, trees and other poles dotting the circular drive in front of the school.
Students then delivered a letter to Riccobono's office protesting the decision over the bike rack. Dransfield, who noted Riccobono seemed "pretty mad" all day, said she was later summoned to the principal's office and given a letter. "I walked into the office and he was like, 'Here's your letter -- go.'"
The protest, it seemed, had not been persuasive. One line in the letter was printed in bold face:
"In as much as the district provides courtesy busing to students who live within walking distance of the high school, because of the danger on Garretson Road, it does (not) make sense, in my opinion, to promote the riding of bicycles to school," the letter read. [ . . . ]
Without school support for bike outings or activities, Hennessey said, the biking club has been reduced to being a forum for merely talking about biking, not actually doing it.
Environmental club member Alec Story noted the school spent a great deal of money to expand the senior parking lot to allow for spots for every senior. With the rising cost of fuel, to discourage students from a health-conscious, cost-free form of transport seems counterintuitive, Story said.
Story added he enjoyed his 10-minute ride yesterday morning so much, "I'm going to do it again tomorrow."
Amazing. And good for the students. Really, it is astonishing that the school would go out of its way to discourage biking. It's been a long time since I was in school, but is this normal? Has anyone encountered this attitude elsewhere, or is Bridgewater-Raritan High a weird outlier? I hope so--I'd hate to think this was a trend.
This is Bridgewater-Raritan High School, and Garretson does appear to relatively narrow. It is possible that cyclists could be endangered riding along it, if motorists were driving especially badly. However, Garretson is long and straight, so it's unlikely that cars wouldn't at least see the cyclists they would be sharing the road with. To refuse a free bike rack on the theory that it might encourage bike riding which might result in an accident is just plain stupid. I'd say Principal Riccobono is just another example of the great American suburban scaredy cat.