Interview with Ronni Kass
by Meghan Sahli-Wells
Ronni, Rama and their two children live exactly a mile away from Linwood E. Howe elementary school. When their son Mavi entered first grade and daughter Uma was in preschool, they began biking to school together. The family has been commuting by bike for the past four years, and they love it.
MSW: Why did you begin biking your kids to school?
RK: We do it for environmental reasons, but the most noticeable benefit is that it wakes the kids up in the morning. It gets the oxygen to the brain, and really gets our day started. It’s also good family time. We get a chance to do something enjoyable together first thing in the morning.
Everyone seems really stressed in their cars in the morning, but biking is not stressful at all.
MSW: Is it faster to bike to school than to drive there?
RK: On certain days, like street sweeping days when there’s no parking, it’s much faster to bike. If you’re lucky on other days and you find a parking spot, it’s equivalent. Now that they’re old enough for us to drop them off at school, it can take longer to bike than to drive – when we’re running late we actually do drive them. But we don’t bike for the efficiency, we do it for other reasons: the lack of stress, getting the kid’s day started in this positive way, and environmental reasons are why we do it.
MSW: Do your kids ever complain that they don’t want to bike to school?
RK: No, they love to take the bike, especially since we started taking our dog Coco with us. They’re disappointed if we’re running late and have to drive.
MSW: You mentioned that biking was a good way of starting the day. Do you notice a difference between bike days and car days?
RK: I can only imagine that it’s good at the beginning of the day, after we drop them off with their teachers. I definitely notice at the end of the day it’s a good way for my kids to unwind after school – especially for Uma – it’s a pretty long school day for a 6 year old. I think that getting on our bikes, talking about our day and blowing off some energy has been really good for us.
MSW: How does biking make you feel?
RK: I feel great. It kickstarts my day, too, just as good as a cup of coffee. And I’m proud that we do it. I’m proud that they’re growing up with this experience. I think that it’s really important. When we bike to school and see schoolmates biking and walking, we feel a strong sense of community. We wave to everybody, it’s a really nice way to say good-morning, even to people who are driving their cars. I feel like it’s an experience that my kids are going to remember as part of their whole elementary school experience. I used to bike to school, it’s just what everybody did when we were kids. But it’s hard in L.A.
MSW: Are you beginning to think about when the kids will be able to ride to school by themselves?
RK: Oh yeah, Mavi’s been asking, “When can I ride alone?” He wants to do it now. I’ve been watching what other families have done, and I’ve noticed that when the older child is in 5th grade, they begin biking to school alone. I’ve been practicing with them, pacing back a little bit and letting them get ahead of me and observing what they do, to see how safe they are. I also talk to Mavi about how important it is for him to look out for his sister, and stay with her. He’s totally ready to bike by himself, but I don’t know that he’s ready to bike with her. He’s still only 9 and he gets distracted sometimes. She’s not ready to bike by herself, although I watch her and she’s doing all the right things; they’re slowing down, stopping when they’re supposed to, looking both ways. I’m trying to teach them to look out for cars backing out of driveways, that’s a concern of mine.
MSW: Do you think that Culver City schools should start bike programs, like bike education? For example, at Linwood Howe we had our big “Bike and Walk to School Week” and bike clinic. Do you think that’s the direction all Culver City schools should be going in?
RK: I think it depends on the program. I think it would be great if it’s a program that people would and could participate in. So in theory yes, but I would be really curious to see how that would look. I think if people understood the benefits then they would be more inclined to do it. You see how frustrated everybody is in the mornings: cars are backed up on Irving Place, and you can’t find a parking spot. If it’s presented to people terms of stress reduction and quality time, then you could really convince a lot of people that biking is better. So yes, I think bike education would be great and I would actually be an advocate.
When we started biking to school, when Mavi was in first grade, there weren’t that many people doing it. There were maybe three bikes in the bike rack. I’m happy to see that our bike rack at school is now full – if we don’t get there early, we can’t find a spot! I think it’s great, it’s just catching on organically.
MSW: Safe Routes to Schools has a program called a “bike-bus” and a “walking-bus.” It’s like a school bus, but instead of an actual bus, people are biking or walking together as a group. Is that something that you would consider doing?
RK: Absolutely. I’d do it tomorrow. I would volunteer to chaperone because I enjoy the biking, too. A program like that would help families who would love for their kids to bike to school, but who can’t ride with them because they have to get to work.
MSW: That’s good, because we’re hoping to organize that at Linwood Howe in the future. Right now, do you encounter other families biking to school like you?
RK: Yes, on our block. It’s interesting because I’ve often talked to them about doing a “bike-pool” – the problem is that even one minute in the morning is a big amount of time, and everybody’s schedule is slightly different. But with a little more effort I think we can do it. We’ve done it a couple of times, I’ve biked with my kids and the two other families on our block who are going to school together. I see other people doing it, too.
MSW: For those who are interested in biking to school with their kids, how do you take that first step?
RK: I say try it once and see how it feels. I think families will find that they are inclined to try it again and again. Getting comfortable with stopping and starting at intersections and looking out for traffic takes practice, but riding to school has made my children much more skilled and confident on their bikes. Knowing that you’re doing a real service to your child in the morning should also be very inspiring. There’s a wave of consciousness about biking now, people are thinking about it, it’s the time to do it. It’s fun and it’s beneficial, I’d encourage everybody to do it.