By Jenna O’Donnell |
LITTLE SILVER—More bikes than usual lined the bicycle racks outside of the borough’s two schools on a recent Wednesday morning.
The bicycles, up from three or four the previous day, were a hopeful sign for Liz Gearon, a Little Silver mom who has led an effort to get more of the borough’s students walking and riding bikes to school. With an informal Walk and Wheels Wednesdays initiative this spring and a “walking school bus” program planned for the fall, Gearon and other like-minded parents hope to kick-start a long-term plan that will make Little Silver less car-centric and more pedestrian friendly.
So far, the kids love it.
“I think they feel a lot more energetic and refreshed just getting outside,” Gearon said. “My neighbor’s daughter came up to me and told me she’d ridden her bike to school every day and loves it. Her favorite part is the crossing guard.”
Though informal, Walk and Wheels Wednesdays have mostly succeeded in getting more students walking with their friends to school or riding their bikes, and hopefully reducing some of the traffic at each of the schools. Some parents have been more reluctant to let their kids walk in a town where commuters often pass through in a hurry to catch the train.
“There’s some resistance,” Gearon said, noting that most of the concerns were about safety. “People want better sidewalks, want other people to drive slower – all valid things.”
To help alleviate some of those concerns, Gearon has been working with borough officials on brainstorming ways to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. One possible avenue is Complete Streets, a U.S. Dept. of Transportation coalition that assesses a town’s roads and sidewalks and makes recommendations on how to improve access and safety.
Those recommendations, which typically might include a cross walk or bump out to slow down cars, can be instated gradually over time, as a community makes needed updates to roads and sidewalks. The point, Gearon said, is that the town must be committed to being bike and pedestrian friendly.
“It’s not just something that we’ll have for a couple of years,” she said. “It’s a long-term plan that once we’ve committed to, it’s there for future generations.”
As the school year winds to a close, Gearon is working to get a Walking School Bus program up and running for the fall. A “walking school bus” is exactly what it sounds like – a neighborhood-based group of children who walk to school with one or two adults. Three moms have volunteered as official coordinators, while neighborhoods will have specific coordinators as well. In the afternoons, Red Bank Regional students may volunteer to walk with younger kids for community service credits.
“We are trying to get more kids aware and excited about it,” Gearon said. “Maybe we’ll get some of the kids from high school walking as well.”
Gearon’s walking and riding initiatives have been enthusiastically supported by borough officials, with the mayor, council and recreation department director all on board. The hope is that if more students get used to walking or riding around town, they’ll be healthier and happier and do better in school. And once the kids get walking, maybe some of the parents will, too.
“Kids shouldn’t be shuttled around, especially when it’s only a couple blocks,” Gearon said. “And this will reduce the traffic – which I think everyone wants.”
This article was first published in the June 22-29, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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