Arlington’s cycling advocates frequently focus on things like infrastructure, bike sharing and enforcement. To be sure, these are all important parts of the larger picture, and deserve attention. But so do future cyclists, and there’s no better place to focus on them than in our schools.
Right now, Arlington Public Schools provides a unit of cycling safety instruction through physical education classes at the high school level. The curriculum is part of a statewide effort called Bike Smart, and is taught by PE teachers who have attended a 12-hour training on cycling instruction.
Getting every APS student into a Bike Smart class is a solid start. But there’s so much more the school system could gain from cycling.
First, on the matter of cycling instruction, we need not wait until high school to help instill safe cycling practices. To be fair, there are also some pilot programs extending into Arlington's middle and elementary schools. But a formal curriculum at the elementary level – available to all students – would contribute to building safe and healthy habits early on.
This, of course, would cost money — training the trainers, bikes for instruction, and storage space all add up. So it’s a good thing that cycling could also help reduce costs for APS.
As Arlington’s school age population explodes – it’s currently 22,000 and spiraling — so will the school system's transportation needs. Biking and walking? Cheaper than busing.
While busing will undeniably remain central to school transportation planning, APS could take advantage of Arlington’s compact geography and cycling’s distance-shrinking nature to enlarge the walk-zones around our middle and high schools. With more students walking and biking, there would be less pressure on the bus fleet budget.
The benefits of better integrating cycling into APS curriculum and transportation planning will travel well beyond the school grounds. Safe and confident student cyclists don’t need to rely on parents or teen drivers to get them to after-school activities or jobs.
Finally, the allure of the driver’s license will continue to hold sway over a large portion of 16-year-olds, and there’s really no fighting that. But the early discovery that you don’t always need a car to get around and do the things you want to do? That’s a valuable life-long lesson.
And Arlington Public Schools can help deliver it.
Has everyone noticed the Capital Bikeshare stations filling up the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor lately? Looks like that long-promised spring build-out is finally happening.
Mark Blacknell is chairman of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.