Saturday, July 20, 2024

The view from the back of the pack of the Peabody Elementary School and Rindge Avenue Upper School bike bus. (Photo: Katherine Beaty and Darren Buck)

Inspired by sensational videos from social media, a few parents and I started a “bike bus” last year. It grew organically; traveling along the same route one morning, we passed other families biking together and invited them to join. For those new to the term, a bike bus is simply a group of children who ride their bicycles together to school with parent chaperones, but it is really so much more.

The Peabody Elementary School and Rindge Avenue Upper School bike bus has been in operation since June 2022. It’s been a Friday morning highlight for children, parents, the physical education teacher, the principal and even the vice mayor. The bike bus allows children to ride on and maneuver in the road, on a route chosen for its comfort and very low car traffic. Leaving from Rindge Towers and Russell Field, we snake through the neighborhood streets of North Cambridge, avoiding the bumper-to-bumper traffic along Rindge Avenue and Cedar Streer to deliver 40-plus children and “big kids” to Rindge Field behind the school. As volunteer parents block side streets to allow safe passage, the short ride to school is filled with ringing bicycle bells, giggles and singing. From their porch one bike bus morning, a Dudley Street resident exclaimed, “this is the best traffic I have seen all week.”

In today’s urban environments, we have to tell our kids constantly “stop,” “don’t go there,” “watch out for that car” or “no, you can’t ride your bike there.” But during the bike bus, children are given the freedom of the open road, and they relish it. At first, some were a bit wobbly or shy. With the support of their peers, they have grown into a confident group of riders that spread joy throughout the neighborhood each week.

The bike bus is just the first step in growing these children into confident urban cyclists and autonomous young adults. In just a few short years, the children will head off to high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. They will use Cambridge’s network of protected bicycle lanes to travel to school, attend sports practice and finally explore their city independently. In 2015, 31.6 percent of children walked or biked to school, and by 2019, this increased to 42.8 percent of students, according to data cited in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan from 2020. The protected bicycle network extends the same freedom and safety to explore their city as they felt during the bike bus. Approximately half of parents report they would be comfortable with their children biking in protected bike lanes without an adult, compared with only about 20 percent being comfortable with their children biking in a conventional (i.e., paint only) bike lane, according to a Cambridge Community Survey in 2014. Since then, the city has counted 3.5 times more children on bikes curing their regular city-wide bike counts, coinciding with the city’s building of separated bike lanes, according to this month’s release of a Bicycling in Cambridge report We can expect that as we build more high-comfort, protected bike lanes that connect homes, schools and other destinations, more children will be able to explore their city by bike.

As the Dutch Cycling Embassy said: “Streets designed to encourage physical and social activity are a right all children should be able to enjoy, not just the Dutch. It requires prioritizing the safety of the most vulnerable; allowing them to experience the outside world on their own terms.”

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, vice mayor Alanna Mallon, city councillors Burhan Azeem, Dennis Carlone, Marc McGovern, Patty Nolan and Quinton Zondervan, as well as all council candidates who have pledged to support the Cycling Safety Ordinance: Your decisions have had, and are having, a profound impact on the lives and safety of our children. You are making Cambridge a uniquely safe place to raise them, giving them the freedom to move around their city independently. And for that we thank you.

Katherine Beaty and Darren Buck, Cambridge residents and parents