Lessons for Congress in the case of the students suspended for biking to schoolMay 24, 2012
By David Goldberg
We’re not going to pile on in the story of the overly punitive principal who suspended 64 Michigan students for biking to school as a senior “prank”. After all, she later rescinded the suspensions.
But it’s hard to let a teachable moment like this go by as Congress is negotiating whether to X out funding for Safe Routes to School and for safe walking and biking. What this story illustrates more than anything is the legacy of poor planning and street design that our nation is struggling to overcome as we look for ways to give people more, less expensive and healthier mobility options.
That legacy belongs as much to the federal transportation program and its associated design and policy edicts as to the local school boards, planners and municipal officials who put schools and other destinations beyond the safe reach of people outside of automobiles. For the federal government to now to tell locals “It’s your problem, you fix it,” is as irresponsible as it is lethal.
But when the mere act of kids riding bikes to school can cause a major disruption and bring down entire links in a community’s transportation system, that points to perhaps some deeper issues of urban planning. Critics of alternative transportation infrastructure often criticize it as “social engineering,” but plopping a school into a semi-rural area that’s only accessible by car takes away the students’ (and parents’) ability to decide for themselves how they want to get to school and back.
The Senate’s MAP-21 bill would give local communities more leeway and access to resources to address some of the barriers that prevent people from having safe choices. Here’s hoping that the lessons of Kenowa Hills High help to seal the case for keeping these provisions in the final bill.