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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Biking, walking to school illegal in Saratoga Springs

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 8, 2009

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  Maple Ave Middle School (image by Google Earth, boundary by me)

The headline reads like something from The Onion, no?  This comes to us via the WTF Department (actually from an article by Andrew J. Bernstein in The Saratogian):

"Janette Kaddo Marino and her son, Adam, 12, wanted to participate in the commuting event, so the two set off to Maple Avenue Middle School on bicycles May 15. The two pedaled the 7 miles from their east side home, riding along a path that extends north from North Broadway straight onto school property.

"After they arrived, mother and son were approached first by school security and then school administrators, who informed Marino that students are not permitted to ride their bikes to school . . ."

Here's another passage a little further down in the article:

"The New York State Department of Transportation manages a program called Safe Routes to School, which awards grant funding to school districts looking to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to schools.

"The program encourages kids to walk or bike to school, said Raj Malhotra, program coordinator for the Capital Region NYS DOT. 'Obesity is a big problem among children. It's an alternative transportation. It reduces pollution, saves money and improves the children's health,' he said.

"This year the DOT awarded $2 million in grant funds for transportation projects through the Safe Routes program, mostly to construct sidewalks, Malhotra said.

"Any school district can apply for funds, but Malhotra said Saratoga Springs had not.

"'I personally encouraged them to apply, but I was told that the school board policy considered it unsafe to walk or bike, and the policy is only to bus (kids to and from school),' he said."

It's worth pointing out that the route the Marinos were taking was the quieter of the two routes running north to the school's site.  North Broadway is the road on the left in the Google Earth image, heading for home plate in the southwest corner of the baseball diamond.  Also, one can't help but notice that, if the school were a true neighborhood school in the center of the community rather than on the fringe, whatever safety issues may genuinely exist would likely be alleviated. 

Amazingly, Saratoga Springs was cited only a week ago in Business Week, in an article titled "Livable Saratoga," to illustrate places "with a small-town feel where you can walk to work and shopping."  But not, apparently, to school.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 


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Dave ReidJul 8 2009 11:01 AM

And we wonder why everyone drives everywhere... Foolishness.

MelissaJul 8 2009 11:38 AM

OK, what? WHY? Especially because this kid was with his mom, why is it the school's business how they get there?

AnonymousJul 8 2009 01:31 PM

I agree with Melissa. How is it the school's business how your kid gets to/from school/home? Isn't the school on public property? I think the school board is acting way out of its jurisdiction here. What do they imagine gives them the right to dictate how kids get to school and what are the consequences of defiance?

Soilent GreenJul 8 2009 02:46 PM

Folks, it's about liability. Not how green one feels things should be. All school systems have the responsibility to transports students to and from school. And as they will undoubtedly be held responsible for such, they chose how to best ensure student safety. Just because some blindly support every initiative because it has a green flavor does not automatically mean it's good. I'm sure the school is for healthier students and that it promotes healthy lifestyles. But I feel the reporting on this is leaving a few things out.

John BaileyJul 8 2009 02:51 PM

As to what gives the school "the right," I'm sure it was the city attourney or school board attourney that suggested this for liablity reasons. Kid bikes to school, gets hit, and then sues school. Don't get me wrong, this rule is complete and utter madness, but I'm sure the school is just jittery about liability. And to be fair to the school, they can only do so much on their property to make it safe for bike/ped, the real "blame" belongs to state school siting rules, NYDOT road standards, city transportation planning policies as well.

Merry RabbJul 8 2009 09:44 PM

John you are right that the majority of the "blame" lies with the planning/school siting policies etc. I expect this policy, whether publicized or not, exists in a lot more schools that we would suspect. I passed this article around locally and someone in a town near me replied that the no biking rule is apparently in effect at his neighborhood school as well. Parents were recently notified that 5th graders would be allowed to ride bikes to school during one month out of the school year!

Matthew MuellerJul 9 2009 12:18 AM

That is ridiculous, and yet it seems to be more common for districts to build their schools so they are inaccessible to the students.

AnonymousJul 9 2009 12:30 AM

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link for Maple Avenue Middle School and quickly located their rules/regulations list. In not one place on that list did I find ANYTHING that had to do with arriving at school on foot or on bicycle! It sickens and infuriates me to see a place of learning become a totalitarian monster! Perhaps I'm blowing this out of proportion, but I believe the school's adminiatration needs to stop overstepping reasonable boundaries and issue the Marino family a formal apology.

Woozle StaddonJul 9 2009 09:14 AM

I agree with Melissa and Matthew that this is ridiculous. The school's liability should only extend to occurrences on their property or involving their vehicles -- and that responsibility defines the limit of their authority, as well.

Andrew J. BernsteinJul 9 2009 03:02 PM

Thank you for linking to my story! For your information, the school board's policy committee is meeting over the summer to discuss relaxing this policy. Also, Janette and her son did continue to ride to school for the remainder of the year, under a special agreement with school officials. AB

Kaid @ NRDCJul 9 2009 03:09 PM

Thanks for dropping by with the update, Andrew. You're making a difference!


The heights of irony: protecting our children in a "ClusterF**k Nation" on July 10, 2009 4:52 AM
"...Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that Saratoga Springs was commended only a week ago by Business Week for being an "anti-suburbia" where "you can walk to work and shopping"."

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