Downey celebrates Bike to School Day

DOWNEY - This past Wednesday was National Bike to School Day. With the encouragement of many in the local community, significant numbers of students elected to bike to school. This was Downey's first year of participation in the second annual celebration of Bike to School Day, which spun off last year from the hugely successful Walk to School Day, now in its seventeenth year.

Last year, 974 schools participated nationwide. This year, as of shortly before the event, more than 1,300 schools in all fifty states had registered.

As a point of departure, the focus in Downey was middle schools, with the City of Downey, the Healthy Downey Partnership, Kaiser Permanente, the Downey Bicycle Coalition, and other volunteers and supporters promoting and assisting the event locally. The hallmark of this support was a City of Downey Bike to School Day Proclamation, unanimously approved by City Council at its last meeting. Most of the many correlations between bicycling to school and the environmental and physical health of a community are mentioned in the City Proclamation, so it will be offered in its entirety at the close of this article.

But what about the local impact? On a typical spring day about this time last year, this writer took a photo survey of bicycles during the school day at every school in the Downey Unified School District. As you might expect, bicycle use at the elementary schools was nearly nonexistent, though a pair of bikes from a couple of intrepid students could be seen through the railing inside the courtyard at Lewis Elementary.

Again, as you might imagine, bicycle use was greatest at the high schools. The Downey High School bicycle cages were nearly full, with 60 or more bikes, including overflow outside the cage, as compared to about 30 bicycles parked along the fences at Warren High, where the bike racks had recently been removed. (Columbus High School had fewer than ten.) It's important to note, however, that that amount of bicycle use comprises less then 1% of student transportation choices at each of the Downey high schools.

At the middle schools, the focus of this year's ride, the largest number of bikes photographed last year in any one bike cage was at East Middle School, whose enormous bike cage had about seventeen bikes parked inside. Approximately a dozen bikes were parked at Griffths and West, both of which share bike parking with their neighbor elementary schools. Sussman Middle School, whose huge bike cage, like the rest, hearkens to a long forgotten era of many more bikes commuting to campus, had only four.

By contrast, early reports after Wednesday's Bike to School Day indicate that participation at all the middle schools ranged from at least 40-50 students to as many as 70 at West Middle School, which benefited from considerable staff support, as well as the participation of Mayor Mario Guerra, a newly-minted bike enthusiast himself.

Other City Council members visited and/or rode with students at the other three middle schools as well. In addition, considerable increases were also noted on this day in bicycling to the high schools. So Downey's first Bike to School Day--with a 500 plus percentage increase in bicycle ridership--signals the potential for a healthier future for our community. The reasons for that potential are outlined as follows, in the City of Downey National Bike to School Day Proclamation:

"WHEREAS: a lack of physical activity plays a leading role in rising rates of obesity, diabetes and other health problems among children and being able to bicycle or walk to school offers an opportunity to build activity into daily routing; and

"WHEREAS: driving students to school by private vehicle contributes to traffic congestion and air pollution; and

"WHEREAS: an important role for parents and caregivers is to encourage children to be aware of the challenges and dangers that they face on their trip to school each day and the health and environmental risks related to physical inactivity and air pollution; and

"WHEREAS: community leaders and parents can determine the 'bikeability' of their community and identify any potential challenges to safe bicycling using a bikeability checklist; and

"WHEREAS: community members and leaders should make a plan to make immediate changes to enable children to safely bicycle and walk in our communities and develop a list of suggestions for improvements that can be executed over time; and

"WHEREAS: children, parents and community leaders around the country are joining together to evaluate bicycling and walking conditions in their communities.

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, Dn. Mario A. Guerra, Mayor of the City of Downey, do hereby proclaim May 8, 2013, 'National Bike to School Day' in Downey and encourage everyone to consider the safety and health of children today and every day."

********** Published: May 9, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 04