Biking to School Saves Time

henry dunbar active transportation arlington county
Henry Dunbar Tweet Us @BikeArlington@BikeArlington December 20, 2019

Henry Dunbar is the Director of Operations for Active Transportation. He is a year-round bike commuter and wants to make it easy for everyone to get around by whatever mode they choose, except driving alone which should be harder.

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Helping a neighbor find a backup plan for getting to school highlights how biking has many advantages; like saving time.

I knew something was amiss when I saw Tony, a sixth grader in my neighborhood, standing on the sidewalk one morning, flagging me down as I was riding my bike to work. He explained he started going to a new school across the County, H-B Woodlawn in Rosslyn, but today he overslept, missed his bus, and his cell phone was also malfunctioning, so he couldn’t reach his mom. He used my cell phone to contact his mom and avert a crisis by taking rideshare.

Tony and Henry

Later in the day, I met his mom, Katie, to recount the incident and discuss back up plans for the next inevitable oversleep. Walk, Bike & Roll to School Day was the following week, so I offered to show him how to get to school on his bike.

Navigating the Streets of Arlington

Tony and I “celebrated” Walk, Bike & Roll to School Day by riding the 4.2 miles from Douglas Park in South Arlington to Rosslyn. I told his mom the commute would be between 22 and 27 minutes, which she noted, “That’s faster than his bus. He will totally love this.”

cyclist and pedestrian approaching TJ Bridge
On the ride, I showed Tony ways to zig-zag neighborhood streets, where to pick up on-street bike lanes, and avoid potential obstacles like turning cars, bus stops, and delivery vehicles. Each block presents a teachable moment, for example:

  • You rarely get stuck at red lights, and if you do and there is a long queue, there is often another route option to get around it. That’s the beauty of riding through a street grid.
  • There is safety in numbers, and having two of us increases our visibility.
  • It is legal and perfectly acceptable to take the lane if riding next to a row of cars puts you in the “door zone.”

But Biking is not the Only Car-Free Mode

For return trip, Tony employed another mode of travel that Arlington schools have been encouraging. He will join his friend Daniel, a seventh grader, in taking the ART 45 bus back to Douglas Park along Columbia Pike. And he will put his bike on the bus’ bike rack, becoming a true multi-modal commute practitioner.

bike on ARTbus
Arlington Public Schools and Arlington Rapid Transit offer students a iRide SmarTrip, which is can be used like a regular SmarTrip on all local transit, but only costs $1 when used on ART buses. The Heights Building is served by Metrorail and several bus routes, and students, staff, and parents have been encouraged to explore finding non-car modes of getting to and from the urban campus.

Do a Test Ride, Ask Questions, and Practice

After doing the first run in 25 minutes without really pushing the pace, we reviewed the trip.

Tony’s first impression? “Buses are slow,” he said, noting that his usual commute via school bus is well over 45 minutes. Doing the quick math in his head, I wonder if he knows what daily bike commuting could mean: 20 minutes more sleep.

We also reviewed the sections where he felt least safe (around some construction sites with narrowed lanes), and planned to ride them again in a few days. Eventually, he and his friends will be riding the route themselves without this old man in tow.

Additional Resources

For parents looking to encourage their children to walk or bike to an Arlington County school, there are many tools available including a walking school bus guide and a bike train guide. You can also inquire in your school community to see if other students and parents are riding a similar route. Who knows? Biking could become the default and not the backup.

At BikeArlington we’re here to support individuals of all ages and abilities to walk and/or bike to school. We’ll even help you plan your route.

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