Bikes and the Built Environment

In 2015, hard looks were being taken at the realities of everyday life, with the intention of inducing more motion in children — preferably in ways that fit in with customary life. In many locales, transportation to and from school became a hot topic.

In Mother Earth News, F. Kaid Benfield noted that…

As recently as 1973, some 60 percent of school-age children walked or biked to school. I’m told that, today, the portion is about 13 percent. All this while we have a serious problem with childhood obesity, which has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the National Centers for Disease Control.

A case in idyllic Saratoga Springs, NY, drew media attention. A 12-year-old boy rode his bike to school,

a) along a dedicated bike trail
b) accompanied by his mother on her bike
c) on National Bike to Work Day.

On arrival, they were greeted by the security detail and the school administrators and told in no uncertain terms that students were not allowed to ride bikes to and from school.

The journalist asked questions, and the plot thickened. This particular family was fortunate to live adjacent to a designated bike trail, but students lived all over the district, so it definitely would not be safe for them to bike to school even if they were willing to. If a student was hurt, the school might face legal liability. Everyone must be subject to the same rules, so, therefore, the only acceptable modes of transport were parental car and school bus.

Benfield added,

The problem is the school’s location, completely isolated from its community instead of placed within the community where walking and bicycling would be a much more convenient and common choice.

There are a lot of cities in the United States, and far too many of them suffer from schools being built in the wrong locales. On top of a toxic waste pit is not the only bad place for a school. Maybe schools should be where students can get to them under their own steam. Certain factions want to see this taken more extensively into consideration before future plans are made.

Insisting on car or bus transport is based on safety of course, but Benfield adds that in any given year, about a quarter of a million children were hurt in motor vehicle accidents, and for kids from two to 14 years of age, the leading cause of death was MVAs,

Just in case any reader is in a position to influence such matters, the writer also goes into a great amount of detail about the 11 things to keep in mind when a new school is being planned.

Another culture

In the same time frame, Odense, Denmark’s third-largest city, was the exact opposite. Cars were forbidden in school zones, and the very large majority of children walked or rode skateboards back and forth. Even five-year-olds rode their bikes. By the time they reached Grade 3 or 4, class groups would go on field trips by bike. Odense had well over 300 miles of bike paths, an incalculable benefit for the residents and also a tourist attraction.

The school principal gave journalist Matt McFarland answers that might surprise some. Lars Christian Eriksen said that biking affects the child’s character, and seemed more impressed by brain stimulation than by the difference this vigorous exercise made on the muscles and bones.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Getting to School Shouldn’t Be So Hard,” Mother Earth News, February 2015
Source: “This Danish City Is So Bike-Friendly Even Kindergartners Ride To School,”, 02/24/16
Image by DieselDemon/CC BY 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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