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      Feel free to use the comments to this post to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts. (Posting was light last week due to some business, but should resume a more regular schedule this week.)
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Biking to school: USA-0, Netherlands-1

Kenowa Hills High School suspended seniors for riding their bikes to school.  Yes, you read that right.  As their senior “prank”, the seniors decided to ride their bikes to school, with a police escort.  When they got to school, the principal suspended them for disruptive behavior:

A good time was had by all, except for school Principal Katharine Pennington.  Apparently dismayed at not having been informed about the event, Pennington suspended the participants for the day, forbade them from participating in today’s senior walk — an annual tradition — and said they could potentially not walk during their graduation next week, Rachel Nicks, the mother of one of the participating students, told ABC News.

Nicks said she was aware of the biking plan and had given her 17-year-old honor student son, Cody, her full approval. Shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, he called her to say he’d been suspended.

“And I said ‘What did you do?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t do anything. They’re suspending me for riding the bikes. We’re all being suspended,’” Nicks told ABCNews.com

She was outraged, as were many other parents who showed up at a scheduled school board meeting Tuesday night.

“The disruption to the classroom, the disruption to the school day, was not these kids,” Keri Whip, a parent of one of the bike riding participants, told the board. “It was the principal.”

 It could be worse.  In my neighborhood, residents have a habit of calling police if teenagers walking through the deadly quiet developments make too much noise.  You know, talking, laughing to each other?  The principal sends home emails to parents warning them to get their children off the streets before they get their asses hauled off to jail for, I don’t know, being human.  {{rolling eyes}}  It’s all a matter of control.  Too many people feel they need to control the behavior of others even when it’s not their jurisdiction.  If the principal wants to make and enforce rules on campus, that’s one thing.  But once those kids leave school grounds, she’s not allowed to dictate their mode of transportation or the amount of noise they make when they’re walking safely as a group home and socializing.  And giving in to hypervigilant residents who complain about a teenager’s right to talk while walking on a public sidewalk is exceeding her authority.  People need to chill.  This is not a Clockwork Orange kind of suburb.

So, how do kids get to school in the rest of the world?  Let’s forget about the third world where sometimes they zip line over steep chasms or walk miles for water.  How do they do it in places like the Netherlands?

Check it out:

Holy smokes!  They even *talk* to each other while pedaling.  There is no bike nanny standing by making sure they ride single file with a regulation length of space between them and the next rider.  It’s sick, I tell you.  The Netherlands is full of danger and a child sexual molestation just waiting to happen.

Do you have any idea how much money school districts across the country spend on busing their kids to school?  It’s shocking.  We should be encouraging our communities to build bike paths so kids can ride to school.  But nooooo, not this country, where parents wait at the bus stops with their 12 year olds until the bus comes and gets them.  Predators, you know.  Or they might wake the neighbors with their talking.

Friday: Bicycles

May is National Bike Month and today is Bike to Work Day.  I know, I know, it seems to come earlier and earlier each year.  But seriously, Americans appear to be willing to entertain the idea that biking in an urban environment can be good for the environment and good for health.  For decades, the bicycle market has been dominated by sports and racing bikes with an emphasis on lightness and speed.  Unfortunately, that left many of us out.  Even hybrids can be can leave a cyclist feeling one quick stop from hurtling over the top of the handle bars.  But recently, we are starting to see the introduction of more upright European bikes and cargo bikes in the US, indicating that there may be a market here for more comfortable and practical riding experiences.  Electric assist bikes can help get you up a hill without feeling like you’re cheating.  Couple that with the addition of more bike lanes in many cities after years of steady advocacy and we may be on the verge of a biking revolution in this country.

To celebrate, let’s take a look at some current bike news:

In Pittsburgh, the Port Authority transit system is adding bike racks to buses.  Check out their handy video on how to “rack and roll“.

New European style bikes mean comfort and places to stash your groceries and laptop.  Check out this video for the features of a typical Dutch bike:

Last month, the British Bobbin came to America.  It’s a bit less upright than Dutch bikes but it’s lighter.  Public Bikes offer a similar style to the upright Dutch bike.  Cargo bikes offer long fenders for paniers or a couple of extra pint sized riders.  Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan at ApartmentTherapy likes the Yuba Mundo 21 Speed Cargo Bike for getting around Manhattan with your kids and your groceries.

And to stash all of your stuff, the new bikes have a lot of nifty options like baskets, bags and paniers.

Urban biking might start a chain reaction of lifestyle changes.  This NYTimes article muses that your dinners might feature more fresh food if you commute by bike since you can’t shop for more than a couple of days at a time when you’re restricted to carrying only one or two grocery bags home.  I can see a whole new retail space for bikers who need to shop for dinner on their way home.  And in Brooklyn, you can meet your friends for a beer or coffee after work and whip out your laptop while you’re waiting for your flat to be fixed.

Sounds great, you say, but what about the hills?  Evanti and CurrieTech offer electric assist bikes complete with solar chargers for the zealous.  I like the iZip E3 Zuma from Currie.  It’s about twice the price of a regular bike but check out that retro style- in aqua.  Lust.

But for those of you who are a bit more adventurous, check out the bike lift in Trondheim, Norway:

It looks so deliciously unsafe and fun, which means we’ll probably never get one here in the states.  But San Francisco is already looking into implementing a bike lift so who knows?  It will probably have guard rails and harnesses and safety seats and will require a release form or something but just thinking about designing one is a fun thought exercise.

The guy who was working at the bike shop I visited yesterday said that REAL bikers would just pedal up the hill but he lives in Metuchen where real HILLS are non-existent.  Try that in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh where the streets go straight up.

Maybe the real impediment to commuter biking taking off in America are bike shop owners who continue to see biking as a highly technical and competitive activity instead of a pleasant, inexpensive and healthy way to get around.  Maybe the next decade will change all of that.  There might be a business opportunity here for the intrepid visionary.

Anyway, have a great National Bike To Work Day.  I’m taking my bike in for a tune up this weekend.  Next week is the annual Tour of Somerville.  I don’t compete but it’s always a fun, festive atmosphere.  See you there?

One final thing: This is city biking in Utrecht.  It’s what American cities could look like if we didn’t have a bunch of hard ass clueless Tea Partiers and Republicans monkeywrenching progress all the time.

Getting the bike paths was no easy task in the Netherlands.  There was a not inconsiderable amount of struggle involved.  Here’s a video that explains how the Dutch did it.  There’s a lesson here for public servants.  Now is the time to push for them.  The timing couldn’t be better to get ahead of the curve.