Students trade four wheels for two on Bike to School Day

The parade of two-wheelers snaking toward R.D. White Elementary School could have stocked a bicycle shop. There were mountain bikes, road bikes and beach cruisers with white-wall tires. Helmeted heads bobbed up and down to the rhythm of the pedals.

It was a scene playing out at schools across the country Wednesday as thousands of students flicked up their kickstands and took to the streets for the first national Bike to School event. Sponsored by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, the ride was modeled after its International Walk to School Day —initiatives that are designed to foster pedestrian safety and healthy lifestyles.

Local cycling activists and parent volunteers chose to pilot the inaugural event at R.D. White, which is leading Glendale Unified in its Safe Routes to School efforts. The roughly 30 student cyclists were joined by a dozen community leaders, parents and Glendale police officers.

“This was the first-time try, and I am hoping it will be four times bigger next year,” said Kara Sergile, an R.D. White parent and champion of the Safe Routes to School mission. With the federal grant to the city, she added ““we will be able to do more education and encouragement over the course of the next school years.”

R.D. White fifth-grader Harrison Hirsch, 11, rides to school daily with his younger brother. On Wednesday, they were joined by their parents, Megan and Ross Hirsch, local cycling advocates and members of the organization Walk Bike Glendale.

“It is a lot more fun and it is healthy for you,” Harrison said of cycling.

He and his brother have learned how to share the road with vehicles, he added.

“Sometimes they honk at us,” Harrison said. “Hand signals help a lot.”

A generation ago, lots of students rode their bikes to school, cycling activists said. As lifestyles changed and roads grew increasingly crowded with cars, many parents stopped sending their children out the driveway on two wheels.

Initiatives like the Bike to School event can serve to introduce a generation of young people to bikes as a daily form of transportation, they said.

“People stopped biking,” Ross Hirsch said. “They thought it was too dangerous so they haven’t gotten their kids into it. The kids, when they grow up, are like, ‘What are bikes?’ What I am trying to do with my kids is instill in them from an early age that biking is fun, it is cool, it is a great way to get around and you can do it safely.”

Bike to School was one of several cycling events taking place in Glendale in May, celebrated by enthusiasts as Bike Month. On Saturday, Walk Bike Glendale and the Glendale PTA Council will host a second round of bicycle skills classes for school-aged children at R.D. White.

In March, Glendale City Council members approved a new draft Bicycle Transportation Plan that includes new bike lanes and routes.

“We have an obesity epidemic in this country, particularly among kids,” said Colin Bogart, a staff member with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition who participated in Wednesday’s school ride. “If you encourage active transportation — walking and biking — that is going to help resolve that."

-- Megan O'Neil, Times Community News

Twitter: @megankoneil

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