My lovely wife pointed out the resemblance between the Boltage mascot and Satan. You, dear reader, are welcome to draw your own conclusions.
The other day I was driving home after doing some errands. As I drove down a street near our house I saw five boys on bicycles approaching from the opposite direction. These kids were about nine years old. Three of them promptly moved to the right side of the road. But the other two were confused, perhaps panicked. As I slowly came to a complete stop, one of them passed me on my left (the correct side, albeit in the middle of the street). The other passed me on my right.
These students were undoubtedly participating in our local Freiker program. “Freiker” stands for “frequent biker.” There is an entire technology built around RFID tags to log their rides to school, prepare reports, and so on. As I discovered with a little work on the web, the company is now called Boltage. The FAQ explains the reason for the name change: “Freiker (which stands for FREquent bIKER) was the name of our prototype system. The program was renamed Boltage to more accurately reflect the inclusion of all modes of kid powered commuting.”
To their credit, the company emphasizes safety in selecting schools where their program will be implemented: “The Boltage program is focused on K-8 schools with a reasonable population of kids close enough to walk or ride their bikes. Usually, schools have at least 200 students living within 1.5 miles, although the program has been successful at charter/open enrollment schools where the majority of kids travel greater distances. It is also important that kids can commute safely, so built environment is a consideration.” And they include some guidelines to help interested people decide whether their school’s neighborhood is safe enough for biking and walking. This tip sheet was prepared by SafeRoutesPartnership.0rg.
Now all this is fine. It would be even better if the system could be set up to automatically notify parents that their child has arrived at school. Unfortunately there are other considerations. For example, what if the kid arrives but forgets t0 swipe their helmet at the Freiker machine and thus doesn’t get recorded? Kids, after all, have the attention span of a squirrel. Frantic parents would overwhelm the school. The amazing fact is that so many of them actually do manage to register each day on the Freiker system.
And that short attention span is the source of the problem. If you think a car driver on a cell phone is distracted, watch a bunch of kids on bikes some day. And the Boltage FAQ states, “The Boltage program is focused on K-8 schools with a reasonable population of kids close enough to walk or ride their bikes.” Kindergarten? Really? Let’s see what the League of American Bicyclists has to say:
- Once a child can hold their head up and fit a helmet, they can be a passenger
- Until about age five, kids should ride in a child seat, or better yet, a trailer
- Kids need basic motor skills to operate a bike
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- Explain to kids how traffic works; they have only been passengers
- Teach them about yielding, passing, predicting and traffic law
- Bicycle riders have to obey the same rules as cars and buses
- Let them pick out their helmet and they will want to wear it; wear yours also
- Make sure that the helmet fits the child properly; level on the head and snug
- Replace the helmet after a crash…
10. Transportation choices
- Bikes are vehicles; this is their introduction to driver’s training
- Plan a route with your child to get them to a friend’s house or school by bike
- At about 10, kids are ready for longer trips; make sure they make safe decisions”
Got that? All kids need are “basic motor skills.” In fact, just like driving a car, the most important part of riding a bike is between the rider’s ears. Except that distracted biking is far more dangerous than distracted driving. At least drivers have shells around them with extensive safety devices — crush zones, seat belts, airbags, and so on. A bicyclist is completely exposed. Speaking as someone who once rode around 100 miles per week, I can assure you that it’s dangerous, even more so if you’re not devoting every bit of your attention to what’s happening around you. Kids are easily distracted. Stating that “At about 10, kids are ready for longer trips” is like saying it’s OK to drive a car as long as the driver’s legs are long enough to reach the brake pedal.
And Boltage is not cheap. They give you a model budget Excel workbook. Unfortunately most of the spreadsheet is locked meaning you’ll have to do some work to develop a real five-year forecast. (The spreadsheet only covers start-up costs, not ongoing program costs.)
I hope it’s clear why People for a Population-Free Planet supports Boltage in their efforts.