Transportation on Tap: Youth and Active Transportation

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By Erin Kindell, Minnesota GreenCorps Member (TLC), and Hilary Reeves, Strategic Advancement and Communications Director

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Photo credit: Kirk Johnson

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It’s clear that Millennials are influencing transportation trends, and using a range of options to get around, stay connected, and save money. But what about teenagers and younger kids? What’s their transportation world—and what should it be?

On December 9, TLC members and allies gathered at Republic in Minneapolis to explore the topic of “Youth and Active Transportation,” as part of TLC’s Transportation on Tap series. The final event of 2014 featured panelists Amber Dallman, Physical Activity Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Health; Nicole Campbell, Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Coordinator at MnDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Section; and Casey Pavek, General Manager at Venture North community bicycle shop. Thank you to the panelists and everyone who joined us for a great conversation! For everyone else, here is some of what you missed:

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Moderated by TLC’s Hilary Reeves, the last Transportation on Tap panel of 2014 brought us a smart, engaging conversation about youth and active transportation.

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Barriers and Successes: Access, Infrastructure, Education

Casey Pavek emphasized that access plays a major role in how everyone gets around; if kids are equipped with bicycles, they will use them. But, there are barriers that make it harder. Venture North works with nearby schools and neighborhood youth. They’ve noted infrastructure barriers, such as a lack of bicycle lanes or safe crossings at major roads. Another problem is a lack of safe places to park or store bicycles. Casey also said sometimes drivers tell bicyclists to get on the sidewalk, and sometimes kids on bicycles are associated with loitering or bad behavior. Overcoming these misperceptions, while also addressing access and infrastructure issues, is essential to supporting a new generation of bicyclists and pedestrians.

Nicole Campbell noted that some parents are opposed to their children walking or bicycling alone, in cold weather conditions, or in seemingly unsafe areas. Although the idea of “stranger danger” originated several decades ago, that idea is still very prominent. Nicole explained that although infrastructure changes are necessary and welcome, these need to be paired with education and programming for parents and students. This could include walking or bicycling clubs, “walking school buses,” or teaching bicycling and walking safety skills in school. Students exposed to this type of engagement are more likely to be open-minded to a variety of travel habits as adults.

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A walking school bus is one way to make walking to school a fun group activity for young students.

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Amber Dallman echoed the need for education and outreach to encourage active transportation. Through initiatives such as the St. Paul Smart Trips Frogtown Neighborhoods Program, she has seen kids become champions of bicycling and walking and see their neighborhoods in new ways. Amber also noted that some believe active transportation “doesn’t work” in rural communities because of longer distances between destinations and busy roads. But, in Greater Minnesota, she has seen successful collaboration between service groups, seniors, and kids around active transportation. The local Kiwanis or senior group, for example, will volunteer to monitor bicycle rides or kids walking to school, bringing the community together.

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Frogtown Youth Crew, Summer 2013. Photo credit: St. Paul Smart Trips

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Ages 9 to Adult: Engaging Community & Cultivating the Next Generation

Community bike/walk centers can be important incubators for the next generation of bicyclists and pedestrians. In North Minneapolis, Venture North engages youth in different ways at different ages. The Earn-a-Bike program teaches participants ages 9 through adult to fix and maintain bikes as they earn their own bike. The Bike Mechanic Apprenticeship program employs and trains community youth ages 15-23 about bicycling and walking in addition to professional skills for future employment. Many younger kids visit the shop with older siblings and become interested in bicycling. Around age 10, kids start being interested in taking bikes apart but might not be able to put them back together. At about age 12, they might start doing both. As they transition into teenage years, they begin to understand how the shop operates as a business. By demonstrating how bicycling and walking can be inexpensive, fun, and practical, kids are more likely to integrate those activities into their daily lives.

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Venture North engages kids ages 9 and up with Earn-a-Bike and other programming. Photo credits: Venture North.

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For the Future: Changing Trends & Supporting Multimodal Families

According to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, the number of children walking or bicycling to school plummeted significantly, from about 50 percent in 1969 to only 13 percent in 2009. The panelists described programs that are helping to reverse that trend, in terms of the communities we build, the options at hand, and the decisions we make daily about how to get around. A key component of getting more kids and teens into the lifelong habit of bicycling and walking for transportation is ensuring that more young families can leave the car at home. Amber currently walks her children 2 miles to and from school every day, and frequently uses transit and bicycles to destinations. Because she utilizes these modes on a daily basis, her kids view vehicle trips a lot differently. Her four-year-old son’s reaction when she tells him to get in their vehicle is often something like “But that’s going to take forever!” He associates car rides with traveling to visit family in Wisconsin.

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