Tuesday, September 15, 2009

More Schools Encourage Commuting by Bike

The tandem bicycle that Meghan Faux and her 7-year-old daughter Ryan use to get to school got a flat tire last week on the first day of classes. No matter. The next day Ms. Faux arrived at Public School 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, with Ryan following closely on a trail-a-bike, a child-size bicycle frame that attaches to the back of her mother’s bicycle.

The 10-minute ride from Fort Greene to Boerum Hill would take at least 30 on public transportation, Ms. Faux said. Forecasts of afternoon rain are not enough to stop them. Nor is the cold — Ryan happily puts on a snowsuit and a mask in the winter. When Ms. Faux cannot ride Ryan to school, her partner, Marie Tatro, tries to. And when one bicycle is out of service, the family has another to rely on.

“We have pretty complicated bike lives,” Ms. Faux said.

There are no estimates about how prevalent bicycle commuting is among parents, students and teachers at New York City’s schools, but a morning spent in front of P.S. 261 gives credibility to Ms. Faux’s claim that she is not an anomaly. P.S. 261, which has about 830 students, is one of 34 schools to have requested that the Department of Transportation install bike racks through the department’s CityRacks program. Last spring, the department installed five bike racks in front of the school, giving parents an alternative to the chain-link fence that they had been using to lock up bicycles to that point.

The school’s principal, Zipporiah Mills, said that the racks had made it easier on parents, and that the popularity of bringing children to school on bicycles had been growing for several years.

Several minutes before Ms. Faux showed up with Ryan in tow last Thursday, Hilda Cohen pedaled up to the school on Pacific Street. Sitting just behind her handlebars, on a custom seat made from a skateboard, was her daughter Esme, 7.

Esme, who has been known to strut through the halls of school with her helmet still on her head, said she preferred riding on her mother’s bicycle to other forms of transportation.

“I don’t like to ride the bus,” she said. “You just sit there.”

Pacific Street slowly filled with young children and their parents. Children jumped from idling cars and climbed out of school buses. One rode by on a Razor scooter. And parents pedaled up on bikes built or rigged to accommodate their elementary-sized passengers, or alongside children who rode their own bicycles. A woman carefully stowed the seat of her daughter’s bicycle in her backpack, rather than leave it to tempt any bike thieves who might walk by during the day, then rode on to work. A man rode past with a young boy and girl riding a seat made for two mounted over his back tire. The bike stopped for less than a minute in front of the school. The boy jumped off and headed inside; father and daughter made a U-Turn and pedaled away to another school nearby.

These commuters described the incentive to get their children to school on bicycles as a combination of convenience and the desire to instill an interest in bicycling and exercise early in life.

“I’m trying to raise two children to be bike riders, so I’m going through all the steps,” said Kim Wiley-Schwartz, the director of Livable Streets Education, an environmental group. She has two children at the school, Nora, 7, and Isaac, 5.

“Some people just attach their kids to their bikes to get them from place to place as fast as they can,” Ms. Wiley-Schwartz said. “That’s also viable.”

For Selina Cardoso, the morning ride from Sunset Park with her daughter Michelle, 7, takes half an hour, about the same time it would take to ride the train. The decision to travel by bicycle, she said, comes with a financial benefit as well.

“It’s exercise, and we don’t have to buy a MetroCard,” she said.


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