Students are pretty much prohibited from cycling to and from elementary school in bike-friendly Collingswood.


"It's a very bike-able community," says Sara Langdon, mother of two and a leader of a renewed grassroots/social-media effort to overturn the de facto ban.

A professional photographer, Langdon notes that in a borough with a bike-share service, new bike racks at Roberts Pool, and Sunday road closures in Knight Park to encourage riding, "it's quite shocking that [biking] is not supported by the school district."

Says cycling advocate and Collingswood resident Joseph Russell, a website designer whose "repeal the ban" petition on has attracted more than 200 affirmative clicks, "biking to school is as American as apple pie."

With five neighborhood elementary schools and two square miles of leafy streets, the resurgent Camden County suburb would seem to offer a postcard-perfect velo venue for students of all ages.

But borough school board policy allows only students in grades six through 12 to lock their bikes on school property. And bike racks are not available at the elementary buildings.

"My daughter Willa, who's 7 and in second grade, loves to ride her bike, but she can't ride it to school," says Joe Bonaparte, former director of Collingswood Bike Share.

The restriction has been the rule in Collingswood as long as he and other people can remember; citing student safety as a "paramount concern," the latest version of the policy dates from 2005.

"Have you been outside any of our elementary schools in the morning? It's chaos," Superintendent Scott Oswald says.

Opponents of the policy should work with parents at each of the schools to reduce traffic hazards created by "the constant dropping-off" of students, he says, adding, "If they can do that, then we can talk. And then they could convince me to be on their side.

"Although I've been made the villain in this, I'm not opposed to cycling. I ride my bike every weekend," Oswald adds.

"But there are too many cars outside our schools. I can't control those things, but I can try to the best of my ability to keep our kids safe."

Although Oswald also suggests that cycling enthusiasts approach the school board, a similar effort last year "didn't go anywhere," Langdon recalls.

"I don't know what the appetite is [for] revising the policy," the school board's president, David N. Routzahn Jr., says.

"As a board, we are certainly mindful of parents' wishes and taxpayers' wishes, but those need to be balanced against other issues."

Collingswood is not the only local district to put limits on younger riders; students in neighboring Haddon Township don't get to cycle to elementary school, either.

Such restrictions often result from "some incident 20 years ago that no one remembers," says Seth LaJeunesse, associate director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, a North Carolina nonprofit.

Sure enough, neither Oswald nor Routzahn is certain what gave rise to the Collingswood policy they have inherited.

Regardless of the rationale, a ban "doesn't seem the best approach to address real safety issues" for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers in a community, LaJeunesse says.

The nonprofit Cross County Connection in Marlton encourages schools "to have policies that promote safe walking or bicycling," program director Ronda R. Urkowitz says.

Having just returned from a European jaunt that included a stop in bike-crazed Amsterdam, I'm all for safe walking/cycling policies.

But Collingswood's restriction strikes me as counterproductive; wouldn't kids biking to school mean fewer drop-offs by parents, and thus, fewer cars?

And shouldn't parents be the ones who decide whether their children ride, walk, or bike to school?

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan