New program brings free bikes, traffic trouble

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A pilot program to get students on bicycles and off of school buses is up and running at Hart Elementary School. Students who passed a safety course were given new bikes for free, but the program is not as generous for some parents.

The Safe Routes to School Program gives a free bike, security lock and helmet to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders who can pass a safety course. Of the nearly 300 students eligible, nearly 50 have already utilized their new bike to get to and from school during the first week. Police officers and monitors are on hand to make sure the riders remain safe and the idea is to promote health and decrease the dependency on school buses. Principal David Dean said the program will monitor student progress.

“We will see if it reduces body mass index and increases fitness scores,” said Dean.

Hart Elementary chose to implement the program after a pedestrian bridge connecting the school to a significant portion of the community was built earlier this year. If the program is a success, it could be expanded to other campuses. Unfortunately for Romero Avila, his 3rd grade son does not know how to ride a bike and that means Avila has to adjust his schedule.

“If we could have the buses back, we would not have to face this problem,” said Avila after spending 15 minutes searching for a parking spot.

Because the bridge provided a safe route to school for pedestrians, the amount of school buses delivering students to and from Hart Elementary was decreased from 10 buses to just one. That means Avila now has to pick his son up from school, a task that the program may have made more difficult.

“To get through to the school is getting impossible,” said Avila.

For students who are not in the Safe Routes Program and who may be unable to catch the lone bus, their parents have to make other arrangements. Complicating things for parents trying to pick up their children, the new bike lane which leads students to their homes runs along the side of the street where parents used to park their cars and wait. Now much of that traffic is being pushed into the nearby neighborhood. Avila had to park on a neighborhood street before walking to the school to pick-up his son on Tuesday.

On the first day of school, Principal Dean admits there were more cars than what they were expecting, but does anticipate the traffic to smooth out as the year wears on.

“In the next couple of weeks, we will do an after school program that will reduce the number of cars here at 3 o’clock,” said Dean.

Still, Dean believes the advantages of the program far outweigh the disadvantages.

“We are hoping we see an academic increase as well,” said Dean. “The better off we are getting more kids riding their bikes and walking to school rather than 500 cars coming to pick up.”

Per policy, only children who live within a two-mile radius of the school are allowed to be in the program. Dean estimated that includes 90% of the students at Hart.

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