Green Ways to Schools gets kids to rethink transportation
In today’s auto-centric world, it is easy to forget that mobility does not have to be synonymous with automobiles. The efforts of one local organization hope to curb this dependency on cars for Santa Cruz youth.
The program is called Green Ways to School, and aims to transform the way young Santa Cruzans perceive transportation. The two organizations that sponsor Green Ways to School, People Power and the Santa Cruz Hub for Sustainable Transportation, are both committed to promoting alternative and eco-friendly modes of transportation. Green Ways to School differs from the missions of its parent organizations because it hones in on educating middle and high school-aged students about these alternatives. In addition to bicycling, Green Ways also promotes carpooling—the focus of Rideshare Week, which celebrates its 27th anniversary this week.
According to the Hub for Sustainable Transportation’s website, cars are the single largest source of greenhouse gases in Santa Cruz County. Indeed, the City of Santa Cruz’s current draft of the Climate Action Plan reports that in 2008, transportation accounted for 34 percent of carbon emissions in the community. The Hub also explains that cars create congestion, reduce air quality, and contribute to rising obesity. They also cite cars as a source of stress and fatigue for teens. However, their campaign is not just targeted at youth of driving age, but at children of all ages—whose parents may make several trips a day driving them to and from school and activities.
“Twenty percent of traffic during rush hour is from people dropping their kids off or kids driving themselves to school,” says Tawn Kennedy, director of Green Ways to School. “Furthermore, 40 percent of the trips people take in Santa Cruz are under two miles—so it’s a trip to the store, or to go shopping, or wherever. Most kids feel that two miles is something they can handle.”
To spread the word and educate kids about the benefits of active transportation, Green Ways puts on presentations in classrooms across Santa Cruz County. These presentations discuss the ecological and physical benefits of bicycling. Green Ways also organizes recreational rides to get students involved. ”One big ride we do is a ride down to Monterey,” says Kennedy. “It’s about 100 miles round trip and we have kids who go on it who cycle every day and others for whom it might have been months since they’d ridden.”
Green Ways is also working on making bicycles accessible to more youth. Eligible participants can get bikes through their bike adoption program. The program acquires bicycles from the Bike Church on Pacific Avenue and from the Santa Cruz Police Department, which gives lost, stolen, and unclaimed bikes to various youth programs. Kennedy is also starting to work with the Bike Shack in Watsonville to increase access to bicycles for Watsonville youth.
Cars do still dominate Santa Cruz roads, and safety is always an issue for those who bike. “That’s where politics and working with People Power comes in,” Kennedy says. He is working with People Power to organize a fun ride that would raise awareness about the possibility of making King Street a bike boulevard—a street that would reprioritize its function to permit fewer cars and include better bike paths, thereby making the street safer for bicyclists.
Kennedy points to the history of the transportation system currently in place in the United States and in Santa Cruz as reason for the current situation. He says that throughout the 1900s, the automobile industry spent a lot of money to ensure that other means of transport would be marginalized. Kennedy feels that now, the system has become naturalized and it is hard for many people to imagine travelling without an automobile.
“We’re used to having cars and the comfort of cars,” says Kennedy. “Getting a car is a sign of becoming an adult and I think that for most kids, getting a car is a rite of passage. So part of it is about getting kids to ride their bikes, but a large part of it is getting kids to think about where we get the ideas that we have about transportation and our other options”
Green Ways and its founding organizations are getting involved at a local governmental level to help promote sustainable transportation and increase bicyclist safety, and they have had some recent successes. People Power was an important advocate for the bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the San Lorenzo River that was completed in 2009. They encourage students to get involved in local policy, as well, and Kennedy says that Green Ways students have attended and spoken at civic meetings to share their bicycling experiences. One student on the Green Ways website says that participating in the program is “inspirational,” and feels that “we can all make a big change in the community.”
Green Ways is currently hosting an essay and art contest about why it is important for teens to consider alternative forms of transportation. For more information, visit greenways2school.org.
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