PS The Kids Are Watching

03

Dec

PS The Kids Are Watching

Photo (l-r): Hank Myers, manager; Ray Simas, driver; Bob Elliott, driver; Melissa Wicks, safety coordinator; Bari Freeman, Bike Newport; Harvey Chapman, driver; Paul Nobile, driver; Butch Malarchik, driver; Cindy Boiani, driver.

“We want to be part of the solution.”

– Hank Myers, Manager, First Student, Newport

School busses have unique safety challenges – requiring the utmost attention to the road, the vehicle, and their precious cargo. With an average 35’ length – there are visibility and blind spot challenges at every moment of the drive. Stopping, starting, standing, passing, and turning, our bus drivers need to be aware of what is happening inside and outside their bus. Safety is the most important aspect of school bus driving, and our drivers take it seriously.

Newport has unique challenges as well – narrow winding streets in historic neighborhoods, distracted vacation drivers on unfamiliar roads, cyclists riding the wrong way or inadequately illuminated. Not so unique are the phone-fixated and/or impatient motorists putting everyone at risk. With three pedestrian deaths in the past year, we have a wake up call to take more action to improve safety on our roads.

When Bike Newport suggested a conversation about road sharing with the district’s bus drivers, Hank Myers was keen to get started. The local manager of First Student, Newport’s school bus company, Hank manages 16 bus drivers who service the district’s three schools. “Great idea,” said Hank. “Let’s do it.” Let’s be a partner in the effort to improve safety on our roads.

Fresh off the Monday morning run, we gathered at the First Student bus depot on Halsey Street. We discussed rules of the road, bicyclist rights and responsibilities, and bicycle-related ordinances. We reviewed bike lanes, shared lanes, and state passing laws. We shared horror stories and agreed that there are good and bad cyclists and good and bad motorists.

Together we considered the value of bicycling in a town as small and scenic as Newport, where local travel is mostly under two miles – easily walkable and bikeable. We acknowledged that bicycling inherently reduces traffic congestion and improves health, economy, quality of life, and quality of place.

We agreed on a few first steps together. We’ve already begun to share information – documentation of road rules and recommendations, and helpful videos on road sharing safety. We’ll ask the local media to assist by printing daily or weekly reminders to cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians about safe road behaviors. Together we’ll develop joint messages – like today’s message to bicyclists about the importance of correct bike behaviors near school busses. Here it is:

According to state and local laws, bicycles are vehicles and must abide by all vehicular traffic laws. Therefore:

Bicyclists: When you see a stopped school bus with safety lights on, you are required to stop before reaching the vehicle and remain standing until the bus lights are no longer operating. Also, please do not ever pass a school bus on the right side. When children are entering and exiting the bus, everyone is put at risk.

If following the law isn’t enough, consider this added incentive, as conveyed by our friends at Bike Portland in Oregon: “While you sit out the delay, it may give you time to wonder about the intent of the school bus law. After all it’s meant to keep children safe as they cross the street or congregate around the bus. Despite the personal inconvenience of waiting, the letter of the law may be important here because as a living, breathing distraction in the landscape, you are probably being observed by some of the kids on the bus. These are the future cyclists of America and you, standing by, are serving as a role model. It isn’t often you are given the opportunity to do the right thing so easily and impress a very impressionable audience at the same time. Maybe it’s worth a couple minutes of standing still.” We, at Bike Newport and First Student, agree. Safety is always worth the time.

Throughout our meeting, there was a stoic gentleman at the back of the room who refused to crack a smile, no matter my eye-to-eye attention and attempted wit. He was one tough customer. But at the end of our session, he came forward, took off his glasses and delivered a bigger smile than I’d hoped for. It seems we are all indeed in this together. Thanks to Harvey, Hank Myers, and all the First Student bus drivers for being part of the solution.

Let’s get out there and be role models. Safety first.

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PS The Kids Are Watching