Hurricane Sandy and Safe Routes to School

Robert PingWe have had a lot to be thankful for recently, excepting the lasting and tragic human impact of hurricane Sandy. One of the silver linings, though, is that there is circumstantial evidence that Sandy has had a positive effect on American perceptions of the value of bicycles as transportation, especially in emergencies. And the environmental impact and debated underlying cause of so-called 'superstorms' like Sandy has spurred energy and attention to the long-neglected issue of Climate Change. Reducing single passenger automobile trips can help, and here are a couple of reports from our National Learning Network Library on Physical Activity, Health and the Built Environment that show how Safe Routes to School can reduce trips and have a positive environmental impact: Methods for Estimating the Environmental Heath Impacts of Safe Routes to School Programs and Safe Routes to School: Steps to a Greener Future.

Sandy also had a major economic impact, of course, and bicycles have helped in many ways, including the use of bicycles at neighborhood stations where people could recharge their portable communication devices and provided a way to get to work when all other modes were shut down! After Sandy, daily bicycling in New York City has increased by a steady 14 percent, including bicycling to school, and NYC bike sales jumped by 600 percent right after the storm. The overall economic benefits of bicycling and walking cannot be understated, and our Library contains a host of reports on the subject. We also hosted a webinar on the Economic Benefits of Walking and Bicycling and Safe Routes to School.

I am really happy every time I hear about the generational shift in transportation modes that is being measured now. Sandy will certainly increase the number of young people who ride and walk in NYC, and hopefully in other places affected by the storm. Young people are driving less and walking, riding and taking mass transit more! Here is a report about it from our Library: Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People Are Driving Less and What It Means for Transportation Policy

On a 'heavier' note, bicycle infrastructure is one of the reasons the now-defunct mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, is not going to be missed by many (he was just fired for something else). He had the City remove bike lanes around town, which garnered lots of press from around the world, mostly in support of bikes! Bike lanes and sidewalks and other built environment improvements are critical for Safe Routes to School and were critical in getting people around New York City after Sandy - if only the City's delayed bike share system had been in place then! 10,000 bikes all over the City would have been incredibly helpful to residents trying to get around. The benefit of built environment improvements for walking and bicycling are well documented in our Library's section on Street Scale Improvements.

As the world becomes warmer and stormier, hopefully Americans will continue to warm up to the idea of bicycling and walking as legitimate forms of transportation that can help the environment, get people around in emergencies, improve economies, save lives and Get Kids Moving again! Safe Routes to School is a big part of the solution. Let's keep our fingers crossed and our wheels turning!