Cradlerock gets rolling with Bike to School Day

Dozens of Howard County kids take part in effort

May 24, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

At Cradlerock School in Columbia, it was a day for reading, riding and arithmetic. Dozens of students, parents, teachers and staff took part in Bike to School Day on Friday, the same day communities across the country participated in Bike to Work Day.

While other local cyclists gathered at venues such as the nearby The Mall in Columbia to celebrate a day of getting around without automobiles, many youngsters arrived at Cradlerock on BMX bikes, urban bikes and even bikes with training wheels.

Many were flanked by parents who said they relished the trek along the city's scenic paths and winding roads, avoiding the gridlock in front of the school that often marks the start of a day.

"The number of bikes reduced the number of cars," said Cradlerock PTA secretary Wendy Newton, who organized the event. She said that initially 65 students registered to take part, yet after students had headed inside for class, she counted 82 bikes parked outside. In addition, about 20 parents took part.

"The traffic on Cradlerock Way was reduced significantly because so many parents weren't driving their kids to school," Newton added. "This school wasn't designed for people to drop off their kids. It's a pedestrian design. Part of the point of Bike to School Day is to get people out of their cars and coming into the school the way it was meant to operate."

The event was a first for the two-tier, kindergarten to eighth-grade school and is part of its continuing initiatives to encourage healthy lifestyles for children.

Lower school Principal Jason McCoy, who supervises kindergarten through fifth grade, said that students who ride regularly showed safe paths to teachers who were first-time riders to school. Upper school Principal Jennifer Peduzzi, who is in charge of grades six to eight, said Howard County police were positioned at nearby intersections to ensure that riders crossed safely.

Fourth-grader Abigail Benfer of Columbia rode to school with her sister Charlotte, a second-grader, and their mother, Robin.

"I just like that we get up really early and ride our bikes," said Abigail. "It's fun exercise."

Her mother said that the activity also helps to teach youngsters bike safety. "Especially for kids that live around here, because we have a lot of people driving around," she said. "It's just making sure their bikes are prepared as we're doing all the things we do in the morning and teaching them about hand signals and how to turn."

Cradlerock counselor Bettina Hartgrove rode to school with sons Miles, a third-grader, and Xander, a first-grader. The family lives in Ellicott City, so they drove to a nearby supermarket, where they parked and rode their bikes to the school. They were among many who rode along streets and paths still wet from overnight rains.

"It was cool because I get to splash in the puddles," said Xander.

Bike to Work Day is part of National Bike Month, which was established as May in 1956 by the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists. The group's president, Andy Clarke, said the events help encourage people to ride because they can see others taking part.

"Whether it's something you do because you're concerned about gas prices or whether it's doctor's orders, you have incentive to give it a try," Clarke said.

For fifth-grader Anthony Mello, Wendy Newton's son, riding to school is a regular occurrence.

"You get a lot of exercise to and from school," said Anthony, who rode with his brother, first-grader Dominic. "And the way I do it," Anthony added, "I gain a lot of speed by the time I get home."

Howard County Council member Jennifer Terrasa said that she attended Cradlerock when children rode their bikes more often. Still, she looked around at students participating in Friday's event and said, "I've never seen anything like this. It's sending such a clear message to the kids that we care about their health."

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