By Julie McCay Turner
Several hundred Bedford elementary school students either walked or rode their bicycles to school on Wednesday, May7. They were accompanied by parents and volunteers, including nonagenarian Bob Sawyer. Sawyer has been riding since 1931 when, as a ten-year-old growing up in Haverhill, he would trade rides in his pony cart for the chance to ride a friend’s bicycle.
According to Carla Olson, coordinator of the Town’s Healthy Bedford initiative, student participation is strong and has grown each year: This year’s chaperoned trips to Lane School counted 83 cyclists and 77 walkers. The chaperoned walk from the Lutheran Church of Our Savior’s parking lot to Davis School included 55 walkers, 45 cyclists and 25 scooter riders. There were multiple family groups at each school who walked or biked on their own. A count at JGMS noted 23 bikes and 55 walkers. Although Bedford High School is not eligible for official participation in the Safe Routes to School program, BHS students were encouraged to participate and were observed walking and biking to school on Wednesday.
Cyclists headed to Lane School as part of the chaperoned trail ride gathered in the Marshall’s parking lot for a safety and tire pressure check before heading across a bog bridge to join the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail that passes Fawn Lake. They then crossed Sweetwater Avenue and arrived at the Lane School playground. Walkers in the chaperoned event crossed Pine Hill Road from the St. Paul’s Church parking lot and walked along residential streets to arrive at Lane.
Chief Robert Bongiorno walked from the Lutheran Church of the Savior’s parking lot with Davis School students and parents. “This is one of my favorite days in Bedford,” said Chief Bongiorno as he approached the school alongside Bedford’s youngest students.
Selectman Chairman Margot Fleishman biked and also led the chaperoned walk to Lane; Selectman Caroline Fedele biked, as did B.E.S.T. President Peter Ricci. Lane School Principal Rob Ackerman and IT specialist Matt Hall ran together from Andover, arriving at Lane in approximately two hours.
Safe Routes to School enjoys the support of the Bedford Police Department — School Resource Officers Jeff Wardwell and Stephen Waite “rode sweep” for the cyclists in the department’s electric four-wheel drive vehicle and the department’s traffic control vehicle escorted the Lane School walkers and Crossing Guard Cathy Young helped, as she does each day, at both Lane and Davis crossings. Other town departments including the Department of Public Works, Youth and Family Services and the Board of Health support the initiative as well.
The spring and fall Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Walk-Bike to School Days take place not only in Bedford but in thousands of communities across the United States and abroad. Bedford enrolled in the SRTS program in 2008 as one response to the growing obesity epidemic, and as part of the endeavor to help students and families embrace active lifestyles for long term health benefits. “Families that try walking/biking during a Walk-Bike to School Day often become daily school commuters,” said Olson.
Although Bedford does not have “neighborhood schools,” there are many options for students and families who would like to walk or bike to school regularly. Ideas for remote drop off and maps of sidewalks and trails are available on the Healthy Bedford webpage: www.bedfordma.gov/Healthy-Bedford