On Wednesday, Lawrence students will join kids and parents across the country in celebrating National Bike to School Day.
Locally, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, along with city government, Lawrence Public Schools and other groups, is encouraging kids to get into gear — bike gears, that is — as part of “Be Active Safe Routes,” a community initiative that works toward making neighborhoods and school routes more accessible by foot and bicycle.
If cycling is not an option, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department suggests walking to school on Wednesday. The idea is simply to get outside and get active, said Chris Tilden, the department’s director of community health.
“Being active is fundamental to good health, and we know research shows that kids who bike or walk to school are more likely to get their recommended daily physical activity,” Tilden said. “And we also know that kids who arrive at school (having exercised) are engaged and ready to learn. Evidence shows that children who are active perform better academically.”
Tilden said biking and walking to school also fosters “the kind of independence that parents hope to achieve for their kids.” And there’s also the social benefit of parents spending time with kids, and students connecting with their peers on the commute.
Several Lawrence elementary and middle schools plan to participate in Bike to School Day, with some hosting special events such as park-and-rides and bicycle rodeos. Lawrence school board members, city commissioners and firefighters have also been invited to join in the festivities.
Wednesday’s event will bring students, parents and school staff together for one special day, Tilden said, but he and other advocates hope their efforts produce long-term results, not just for kids, but for whole communities.
He hopes those who participate on Wednesday consider making biking or walking — whether it’s to school or work, or to the park or grocery store — a regular part of their lives. The more people use a given route, the more visible it becomes to motorists and others, making pedestrian and cycling routes safer for all, Tilden said.
“The event happens one day a year, but we are really looking to encourage a change in lifestyle and a change in culture that really puts physical activity as one of the more important parts of a healthy lifestyle,” Tilden said.
Lawrence schools that have registered on the national Bike to School website include Woodlawn, Sunset Hill, Sunflower, Quail Run, New York, Langston Hughes, Cordley and Broken Arrow elementary schools, and Liberty Memorial Central and Southwest middle schools.
For more information on school involvement in this week’s Bike to School Day, visit walkbiketoschool.org. If your school’s not on the list, there’s a chance it might have events planned but hasn’t officially registered, Tilden said. In that case, try contacting your school directly.