Saturday, May 03, 2008

Principal to Students: Thanks but No Thanks

When I was in high school, it was uncool to ride your bike to school. If you couldn't drive, you took the bus, and once you could drive, you drove (or else got a ride from your friends). Which is what I mostly did, although I rode quite a bit as well. We had bike racks at our school, but they weren't especially safe--bikes got stolen occasionally if they weren't locked. (This was unlike the situation in junior high, where we had a locked chain link enclosure for bikes, which was very nice.)

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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you look a little further down the road, it's narrow, curves a few times, and has a couple of odd hill/curves which have killer blind spots. We lost a friend of mine in a ditch for 2 days a block from there once. (fine now)

I can see his concern, though I don't agree at all. More cycle traffic on the road would mean more alert drivers, which will keep us all safer.

I ride this section often. Blinky lights and taking my lane keep me safe. When I went to school, I made private arrangements with teachers to store my bikes.

9:11 PM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

Thanks for your on-the-ground perspective. Obviously, being in Houston, I am not at all familiar with the terrain beyond what I could glean from the paper and Virtual Earth (I did have to drive to Bridgewater from Connecticut once for business, though, so I am familiar with its basic semi-rural/semi-suburban nature).

The more I "researched" this (on Google), the more it seemed that this was a completely atypical situation. My very modest attempts to find out whether schools were discouraging biking turned up much more of the exact opposite--schools and school districts that were trying different strategies to encourage biking. This story stands out because it really is a man-bites-dog kind of story. And I gotta hand it to those students--not like the apathetic party animals of my high school days...

10:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's not quite a typical town, it's farms turned suburban 60 years ago with no plan. The roads are twisty and narrow, the drivers can be animals, and we still have every right to be there.
There's an odd "driver entitlement" I see a lot around here, many seem to resent having to share the road.
The kids who attend this school tend to go far in life. These young adults in particular make me proud.
Much of this problem has to do with the number of highways passing through the town, and drivers using what they think are shortcuts through neighborhoods to get places in a hurry. I do know that the County's commission on road usage is taking an active interest in the situation, so I hope to have neat information for you in about a year's time.

7:15 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home