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Kids Get Bikes, But Will They Ride Them To School?

— About 90 first-graders sat on the carpeted floor of an assembly room at Logan Elementary School when a stage curtain was drawn, showing them a gift of bikes. The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) donated the bikes to these low-income kids, who also got goody bags and a lecture from a cop about traffic and pedestrian safety.

Anthony is a first-grader at Logan Elementary School who got a bike from the Metropolitan Transit System on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.
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Above: Anthony is a first-grader at Logan Elementary School who got a bike from the Metropolitan Transit System on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.

“We wanted to give the kids a gift that’s a part of growing up,” said Metropolitan Transit System CEO Paul Jablonski. The kids thanked the MTS by singing a tuneless version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

But here’s what I wondered: Would any of those first graders ever ride their bikes to school? I once ended up in the E.R. after being hit by a car while cycling, so I can see both sides of the issue.

Not many kids ride bikes to school these days. In fact, when SDPD officer Linda Tousley talked to the kids about street safety she asked them how many of them walked to school, how many were driven and how many took the bus. The question of how many biked to school didn’t even come up.

I asked three first graders – Anthony, Tommy and Asia – what they thought of their new bikes and whether they knew how to ride a bike without training wheels. They responded in various ways, but none gave the impression they were looking forward to riding their bikes to school.

Antonio Villar, the principal of Logan Elementary, told me his school doesn’t really have any place to put bikes. “Space is an issue,” he said, adding that bikes can end up getting driven home by the wrong kid if they’re not in a secure place. The school has no bike rack.

This is not true of all San Diego elementary schools, of course. The principal of St. Dicacus Catholic School (which my son and daughter attend) said they have a bike rack that’s behind a fence, making it a barrier to theft. Elizabeth La Costa guessed that about a dozen kids bike to school from their homes in Normal Heights.

Garden Road Elementary in Poway has a bike rack that gets a fair amount of use. The school secretary told me about 25 kids ride their bikes every day to the school, which has a student population of 500 students.

She told me students in the Poway School District can only bike to school if they are in third grade or up. The policy of the San Diego Diocese, which runs St. Didacus, requires kids to be at least fourth graders before they can hit the streets on a two-wheeler and head for school.

All of us want to be mobile, even kids, and a bike is a great solution to immobility when your demands go no further than visiting friends, attending school or patronizing the nearest ice cream shop. But in a city made for cars the safety of cycling is questionable.

Here’s one piece of good news.

On Friday, the San Diego Association of Governments is expected to approve a Regional Transportation Plan that will reserve $2.58 billion dollars for bike and pedestrian projects. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is. Just remember the cost of the whole plan is $110 billion, stretched over 40 years.

Can you make San Diego a safer place to bike by throwing money at the problem? More on that later.

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