Saturday, March 1, 2014

Connor's Commute to Elementary School

Connor always checks his bike before he rides, including tire PSI.
In these days of badly planned housing developments, and children who are forced to ride school buses to get to school, we are telling the story of a student who is fortunate enough to live in a walkable, bikeable neighborhood. Meet Connor Cunneely, a fourth grade student at Wilmington Manor Elementary School. He  rides his bike to his neighborhood school, every day, in all weather. The following is an interview with him, by Angela Connolly.

AC:  Connor, why do you ride to school?

CC:  I like to ride to school. I get to school fast and it's fun!

AC:  How long have you been riding to school?

CC:  Three years.

AC:  What is the best thing about riding to school?

CC:  In the winter, I like to see the look on people's faces when they see me, in my helmet and all frozen on my bike. In the nice weather, I am not cold and no numb fingers.
I like to bike because walking is too slow, takes too long, and I feel like I am getting nowhere!

AC:  Do lots of kids ride to school?
Connor, checking for cars as he shows me his route to school

CC:  In the cold weather, no one but me. My bike is the only one on the rack. In the warmer weather a few more kids ride.

AC:  Would you like to see more kids ride to school?

CC:  Yes.

AC:  Do you need any special equipment to ride to school?

CC:  No, there are no modifications to the bike at all. The bike is exactly the same as when I got it. I wear winter clothing, a warm jacket, and sometimes snow pants and boots to ride in the snow. And of course a helmet. It can be difficult when the snow is flying right in your face. I keep my head down alot. In the really cold and snowy weather, I keep the tires slightly underinflated, but not flat, because I found that I get more traction that way. I carry my school books in my backpack. In the Spring I will need maintenance done as I have ridden it all winter in all kinds of weather.
Connor, outside Wilmington Manor Elementary School

AC:  Is there any weather you won't ride in?

CC:  NO!

AC:  What extra precautions do you take in bad weather?

CC:  I look for ice, and watch extra carefully for cars. Sometimes, kids throw snowballs at me as I ride by, but I am usually going too fast so they miss!

AC:  Why did you choose that bike?

CC:  The bike is red, my favorite color. When I got it, I liked T Rex dinosaurs so the name was great. It is a great bike for mountain biking on the trails.  I like the trails at White Clay. I also like a mountain bike because I can go off road and across grass, and ramps.  I worry less about damaging the bike.

AC:  What's your route like?

CC:  I have three different routes, but the most direct takes me on only two roads from my house to my school. On nice days when I want to ride further, I have two other ways to go. All the routes go through my neighborhood, Penn Acres.

Wilmington Manor provides a "wheelbender" bike rack, a bad
design and poor choice for bicycle safety and security.
AC:  Last question -  do you think that your neighborhood is walking and bike friendly?

CC:  Yes,very. But most of the kids ride around the neighborhood for fun but not to school. And sometimes bikes get stolen. I had a blue Mongoose that was stolen from my driveway, but we got it back the same day. It was found in a nearby neighborhood.

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The bike....

Connor's ride is a KHS Kids T-Rex Mountain Bike, Red, Shimano gears, front suspension "hard tail". It was purchased at Garrison's Cyclery.

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Connor is ten years old and a fourth grade student at the Wilmington Manor Elementary School. He is the author's grandson. Although no formal modifications were made to the school's surrounding area under the Safe Routes to School program, the school is a neighborhood school located in a bike and pedestrian friendly community. Because Connor takes riding to school for granted, he was unable to answer my question on whether the school actively encourages biking. He does it, so he thinks everyone should. In addition to riding to school, Connor enjoys mountain biking on the trails at White Clay Creek State park. He is very proud to be able to navigate the obstacle courses there. He also enjoys riding around his neighborhood and the nearby Industrial Track Trail. In addition to his grandmother Angela, his Stepdad Mike and brother Tyler are also avid cyclists. His Mom Melanie enjoys leisurely rides on her beach cruiser, while little sister Lilah rides with Dad.

I am very proud of Connor for taking the initiative to commute by bike, and I hope that his passion for biking lasts forever! As his Grandmother, I feel a continued responsibility to advocate for safer on-road conditions for all cyclists. Although Connor rides his bike to a neighborhood school, the reality is that he rides in the street, and until we are successful at raising awareness, and creating safer on-road  infrastructure, it can still be considered dangerous. Connor doesn't feel afraid, though. He loves his bike and wants to ride everywhere. Let's continue to advocate to work within the existing car-centric infrastructure, to modify existing roads that he can safely travel on, to school, and hopefully throughout his life.

Connor, posing with his bike

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