Reading, riding, walking, and arithmetic

Walking or biking to school is a great way to start the day, but only if you're safe

By Alyson Geller, MPH
San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch, September 15, 2010

Walking to School

Credit: Kelly Dunleavy

Buff moms (and dads) ferrying kids around in Burleys and ultra cool Xtracyclers are a signal that school is in session in Marin. round here we are robust with good health habits, foremost among them, peddling, walking and even hiking to school.

As a Los Angeles native, I am still surprised and grateful when I can safely cross a street. But, in fact, we are much safer walking and biking than driving, according to Francis Barbour, an instructor at the League of American Bicyclists and the Marin Bicycle Coalition.

A rosy-cheeked commute is a great way to start the school day, raising the spirits and sharpening the mind. Staying out of the car provides kids a lesson in clean energy (humans exhale the same amount of CO2 in one year that a vehicle produces in an hour). Traveling on foot encourages parents and children to take their time and have a conversation. And when people set out on foot and by bike, cars tend to respond. "Traffic actually slows down the more people are walking and riding through neighborhoods," said Barbour.

Like everything else in the school day, however, sharing the road with busy commuters in two-ton SUVs involves a lesson or two:

Be visible:

  • Walk or ride in a group. Parents should always walk young children across the street. Not only are kids physically small and hard to see – they may not yet be able to correctly gauge the speed of vehicles
  • Wear bright clothing
  • Use lights at dusk and at night
  • Don't ride on the sidewalk, especially where there are blind driveways

Be alert:

  • Pay attention to traffic
  • Anticipate motorists' behaviors
  • Make eye contact
  • Don't text or wear headphones when riding or walking through traffic (don't text while driving either!)

Be predictable:

"Just because they are walking, pedestrians don't have the right of way all the time," said San Anselmo Police Officer Julie Gorwood, adding that she makes a point of enforcing jaywalking laws.

  • Use the crosswalk. Drivers are 40 percent more likely to yield to pedestrians crossing at crosswalks. Cyclists should walk bikes through crosswalks.
  • Avoid the 'dart out.' According to Safe Routes to Schools, of the leading types of pedestrian crashes 33 percent are due to pedestrians entering traffic mid-block, often from between parked cars.
  • If you are cycling, ride in a straight line, use hand signals and remember that bike riders are subject to the same traffic laws as cars. Learn more about sharing the road at the Marin Bicycle Coalition and the League of American Cyclists.

Ride ready:

  • Keep bikes in working order
  • Prevent clothing from getting caught in the bike
  • Wear your helmet: helmets reduce the risk for head injury by as much as 85 percent according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

If you drive, remember that a car is a deadly weapon:

  • Drive now, talk and text later. The repercussions of distracted driving in Marin and elsewhere are significant. Distracted driving injures over a half a million people each year and kills over 6,000. For more information on this deadly epidemic, visit Focus Driven and
  • Stop and look for pedestrians crossing when making a right hand turn on a red light
  • Use major streets as much as possible; residential streets are designed for local use, and you may be held up by cyclists and pedestrians on smaller streets anyway
  • Expect the unexpected and be prepared to stop suddenly when children are present
  • Look for pedestrians when pulling out of driveways and when driving near vending trucks, buses, parks and schools

One of the best ways we can build healthy and strong communities is to lace up our shoes, snap on our helmets, and advocate for pedestrian and bike safety as well as better street engineering and education in schools and elsewhere. heck out the resources below to get involved.

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