May 23, 2014 6:18 pm

Why Toronto students might be biking to school on Monday


Monday is Bike to Work Day in the Greater Toronto Area.

The event has been going on for 25 years but this year, in conjunction, a new biking initiative is being launched to get children pedaling into physical fitness.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) will be launching its first Bike to School Day.

Critics say it’s an initiative that’s been a long time coming.

“Five percent of kids are active enough to experience health benefits,” Elio Antunes, president and CEO of ParticipACTION said.

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He cites the 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card, which claims that “kids are driven to or from school every day, 62 per cent of parents indicate that they do that.”

The report card, which can be viewed here, gives Canadian kids a “D-” rating in the physical activity category.

“We have lots to learn from countries like Finland, where the majority of kids that live a distance of one to three kilometres from school always take active forms of transportation to school.  It’s just part of their culture,” Antunes said.

The TDSB is hoping to reverse the trend in small steps.

“Now is the time to start changing patterns of activity,” school trustee Pamela Gough said.

Gough also sits on the city’s Board of Health, where she’s tired of reading report after report about child inactivity.

“Outdoor play has vanished now.  I haven’t seen a kid play on (my) street for 20 years.  Where are they all?” she said.

It’s clear some parents need a little convincing.  Experts say safety concerns are understandable, whether it is traffic safety or the fear of predators.

However, those in favour of letting kids who live close to school ride their bikes there say the fear is unwarranted.

“Children are probably more at risk by being on the Internet for the predators that may lurk there than they are for anyone that may be lurking in their neighbourhoods,” Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education said.

She points out that during the hours in which they’d be biking to and from school, there are plenty of other kids and parents around.

Promoting a bike to school day is not the final goal.  It’s a late start, but a good start.

“There are places in the world where grade six students, grade nine students are getting a week, two weeks, three weeks of cycling education that really focuses in on cycling as that first mode of independence,” Jared Kolb, the executive director of Cycle Toronto said.

Kolb has been actively involved in the planning of both Bike to Work and Bike to School Day.

More than 2,000 people GTA-wide have registered online to take part in Bike to Work Day, and those organizing the school-based event are hoping student participation will eventually mirror that.

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