San Clemente’s Grade for International Walk/Bike to School Day: A+


Wednesday, Oct. 3, was International Walk and Bike to School Day and several San Clemente schools strutted their stuff for all to see. Council memberLori Donchak escorted a group of students to Las Palmas Elementary School, while Councilman Bob Baker joined in with the Lobo Elementary community. In the south end of town, U.S. Olympian and SCHS grad Brian Thorntonescorted students to Concordia Elementary.

I focused on Marblehead Elementary School , tagging along with a group of parents, students, and Marblehead Principal Jackie Campbell to escort the ped’s and pedalers for the 12-minute walk to school.

Walking to the big rendezvous, I met one 6th grader pedaling with great purpose en route to Shorecliffs Middle School. Part of the Campbell clan (no relation to the Principal at Marblehead), she grew up riding her bike to school and wanted to continue the extra mile or so to middle school. She’s got great bike handling skills and confidently navigated the route as I walked to the gathering spot. I gladly stepped aside on the sidewalk so she could make her way without interruption. “Good job,” I said as she passed.

Everyone was pumped–including their tires. About 30 kids gathered at the starting point, the south Reserve gate, plus their parents and puppy dogs. All engines were fired up for the human-powered train to school.

As our group strode down Vera Cruz, I chatted with one of the Moms. She said it took her and her boys 8 minutes to walk to the south Reserve gate from the lower end of their neighborhood. Twelve minutes later–faster for kids on bikes–we arrived at school.

The Mom I spoke to walked her own bicycle with the group, then rode it home. One way, her trip took about 20 minutes to school, then about 5 minutes to return to the Reserve by bicycle.

All the kids from Marblehead, Lobo, and Las Palmas were focused like a team. Walking and biking to school was both a mission and an adventure. By early morning, they were all awake, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed. No one was dragging or whining or half asleep. Group energy was the rule, not the exception.

Councilman Bob Baker reported that about 60 kids trekked to Lobo with him and his wife, Pam. “The kids were energetic and talkative and everyone had a great time,” he said. “The school’s Principal, Ms. McKinney, and her teachers, were happy to see the kids so excited. I even got to say hello to one of my son’s favorite teachers of all time, Ms. Susanne Rutherford,” the Councilman added.

Ms. McKinney distributed popsicle-party-lottery tickets to the kids who walked and Mr. Baker drew the winners. A winning ticket meant everyone in that kid’s class would get a popsicle.

Meanwhile at the Las Palmas celebration, Councilwoman Lori Donchak spoke to students gathered at Max Berg Plaza Park, across the street from the school. “The kids nailed the advantages of bicycling and walking vs. autos. They knew walking and biking to school makes the air cleaner and enables them to see friends, all while keeping them healthy,” she observed.

The Councilwoman lead the kids along the park and through the crosswalk on Calle Puente. The park was renovated the last couple of years, adding a new, perimeter sidewalk as part of a Safe Routes to School grant the City received. The kids are putting the grant to good use. “Safe routes to school are important to them,” Ms. Donchak added.

Back at Marblehead, the parents enjoyed each other’s company, too. They chatted, walked the family mascot, got some exercise, and sipped some java along the way. No one seemed pressed for time or stressed to get somewhere.

Observing the roadway conditions, I noticed the kids and parents weren’t the only ones to benefit from the excursion to school. There was an enormous decrease in vehicle traffic along Vista Hermosa and entering Turqueza, too. No back-up existed onto the arterial roadway. The reason was simple.

So many kids were walking and biking, that families who live too far away were easily able to enter Turqueza, then the Marblehead parking lot to unload precious cargo. Drivers en route to the freeway experienced fewer cars on the road. It wasn’t like that for the first few weeks in September.

During that first week of school at Marblehead, only two kids rode their bikes and very few walked. The resulting traffic jam blocked the bike lane for about 1/4 mile on Vista Hermosa east and west of Turqueza, which was completely gridlocked.

It took parents about 15 minutes to access the school parking lot because the line of cars was so long. It was like NYC without the skyscrapers.

Had an emergency vehicle needed access at that time, there was no way for it to enter. Simply put, the roads weren’t built to accommodate every child being driven to school.

But now that International Walk/Bike to School Day has been a resounding success, let’s keep it up. Every kid that walked and biked to school Wednesday jump-started their minds and had fun, too, eagerly awaiting their teachers’ lessons. For San Clemente’s young ped’s and pedalers, you get an “A+” for effort!