Friday was Central Falls first-ever Bike-to-School Day. Our principal, Heather Dos Santos, rode her bike from East Providence, through Providence and Pawtucket, and finally to Calcutt (the first leg of her journey, to the Pawtucket border, was on two flat tires with a loose wheel that was rubbing against the frame!). We fixed the bike up, and she was off on her way. Our vice principal, Meghan Baker-Hollibaugh, joined us on the East Side and continued biking with us.
Several staff members expressed interest in the biking day, but many live farther away than would be realistic to be bike commuters. One staff member reported that she plans to start biking to school on good weather days as soon as her move is complete from Exeter to Lincoln.
More than thirty students biked, out of around five hundred, for a biking rate of 6%. This is far behind the Netherlands, where 95% of students bike, but was a big jump for Central Falls, which usually has only one or two students biking, tops. Central Falls is extremely dense and small in footprint, has a low-income population, and is almost completely flat, but has no biking infrastructure at all to meet its population's needs.
Students listed the reasons they don't normally bike:
*My parents won't allow it: many parents do not allow students to bike because of fears related to traffic or social safety--all of the students but one, among those who biked, said that their parents had worried about them biking, asked them not to bike at one point or another, or warned them to not be hit by a car. Most students I saw biked on the sidewalk, which is pretty typical for adults and children in Central Falls. RIDOT controls many of Central Falls' arterials, and historically has removed parking to widen travel lanes on them for faster car throughput (Dexter St., for instance, once had parking on both sides of the street, and only has it on one side now, but is 'not wide enough' for bike lanes, according to RIDOT. RIDOT owns several parking lots along Dexter, a holdover from when the state DOT knocked buildings down for parking in the 1980s, said CF director of planning, Steve Larrick). Larrick, would like to see the city be able to explored protected bike lanes but is concerned that RIDOT will stand in the way.
*My bike will get stolen: while parents worry about cars, students are worried that their bikes will be stolen. Students are not usually allowed to take bikes into the building, but were allowed to do so on Friday. Students overwhelmingly reported that they would change their biking habits if they were allowed to do that everyday. The Bike-to-School Day fundraiser bought three bike racks for the school, but if an equal number of kids biked everyday, it would only be bike parking for 20% of students.
*Kid stuff: it was notable that 20%+ of fifth graders biked, a handful of sixth graders did, and no seventh or eighth graders biked at all. Certainly as students encounter themselves as budding adults, they take cues about what normal transportation is. The fifth grade class I subbed for played a game on Friday where they chose who they were going to marry, what job they were going to have, what house or apartment they'd live in, and what car they'd own. When I pushed back that I didn't own a car and asked whether a person could grow up and take the bus or bike, the students said that cars were part of being an adult.
*I don't have a bike: while we only interviewed students who had biked, those who did not sometimes reported not having a bike when they spoke to me the day before. Some students also reported just not having ever learned to bike.
We had a great breakfast available for all the students and staff who biked, and were joined by Mayor James Diossa. Transport Providence will be partnering with the city to do studies of city- and state-owned streets, and will make recommendations to the mayor on how to proceed in making Central Falls a bike-friendly place. Here are some photos from the day (all photo credits, Rachel Playe):