BALOG COLUMN: Watch for kids on bikes
Today is National Bike to School Day. However, as any third- through eighth-grader can tell you, this week is also PASS testing. Because those students are the prime candidates for riding their bikes to school, a lot of schools are holding off on their bike events for a few days.
Which means you should keep watching out for kids on bikes even after today.
Jennie Moore Elementary is having a helmet drive, and Mitchell Elementary will have a bike rodeo next week. And then there's the Summer Safety Festival and Bike Rodeo, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 18 at the Dorchester County Human Services Building, 500 N. Main St. in Summerville, sponsored by MUSC Children's Hospital and Dorchester County EMS.
As of Tuesday, 25 schools in South Carolina had registered events in May as part of National Bike Month.
That's about the same as last year, state Department of Transportation officials said — pretty good for only the second annual event. National Walk to School Day, which started in 1997, understandably has greater participation.
Carolyn Battaglia, Lowcountry school outreach coordinator for Safe Routes to School South Carolina, acknowledges that the event presents some challenges. “Walking is so much more accessible for schools,” she said. “We can easily create a meeting location where kids can walk. ... When you're trying to do that with bicycles, parents have to bring the bike to the meeting locations. There are definitely a lot more barriers.”
Marrington Elementary in Goose Creek hopes to have its bike-to-school event next week, said physical education teacher Brandon Beckman.
Marrington is on the Naval Weapons Station-Joint Base Charleston, where there are many bike paths, sidewalks and crosswalks. Of the school's 420 students, Beckman said that each day about 30-40 walk and 15-20 ride their bikes.
Of course, neighborhood schools are becoming increasingly rare, and that's part of the challenge. Nobody wants their 10-year-old biking to school in heavy traffic on a street with no bike lanes.
The good news is that there should be three more Lowcountry schools participating in next year's events — Stiles Point Elementary, Stono Park Elementary and Hunley Park Elementary. Construction is scheduled to start this summer that will improve bike and pedestrian routes, according to Rodney Oldham, DOT's Safe Routes to School state coordinator. Those improvements will include sidewalks, and at Stiles and Stono Park, bike storage sheds.
DOT is not accepting applications for new Safe Routes projects because it wants to clear the backlog — like the three local projects that date back to 2007. Check out www.scsaferoutes.org for details.
“It's great that national bike month is right before summer, because kids are going to go home and ride their bikes all summer,” Battaglia said.
Yet another reason for drivers to take a second or third look for bikers — and walkers.