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The Chicago region’s current hub-and-spoke transit system leaves nearly half a million Cook County residents stranded in transit deserts.

Kids need to experience the joy of being outdoors

This blog post was contributed by Jane Healy, president of the Active Transportation Alliance Board of Directors.

I have been doing a lot of riding with kids lately as part of the summer goals for my family and also as the leader of a local kid’s bike club. I’m constantly reminded about how easy and fun it is to get around by bike. While this summer has had some extremely hot days, pretty much every day has been a good day for a bike ride–especially if you start early or ride in the evenings after dinner.

src=http://www.activetrans.org/sites/default/files/healy.jpgEvery week, I take kids on bike rides. Most of the time it’s just an informal “hey, let’s ride our bikes to the pool. But twice a week I lead kids on more formal bike rides.

Young riders always show up despite no formal commitment or fee to participate on their part. Even in January, I average 10 kids on a ride.

At this time of year, the group swells to 25 kids on warm Friday nights. We ride to parks, playgrounds, pools, creeks, forest preserves. I will cut them loose in these places so they can just run around, explore and get dirty. The joy of exploration is tangible with them. It’s fun for the kids and fun for me, too.

One of the reasons I hold these bike rides is because kids need to get outdoors. This is especially true at a time when research is pointing more and more to a “nature deficit” in children. The information about this problem is startling and disturbing.

One of the main reasons kids don’t get outdoors as much as they should is the exaggerated fear of stranger danger. Eighty-two percent of mothers of children between the ages of 3 and 12 cite crime and safety as the reasons they don’t let their kids play outside–yet data shows crime to be at the lowest levels in 20 years.

This disconnect between reality and perception is not going away when amber alerts frequently appear in the news and television makes child abduction seem as if it’s commonplace. It’s not.

The most recent nonpartisan data I could find says that about 115 “stereotypical kidnappings” occur each year (data from the U.S. Dept. of Justice). That makes the odds of any given child being kidnapped at about 1:944,338, or about 1 in a million. The likelihood of getting struck by lightning is 1:134,906 or remarkably, dying in a motor vehicle accident 1:98 (data from the National Center for Health Statistics-Mortality data for 2008). Your child is 700 times more likely to get into Harvard than to be the victim of a child abduction.

Instead of complaining about how your kids spend the day vegetating in front of the TV or a computer, I challenge you to go for a bike ride or a walk each and every day with them. Even the crabbiest teen will quickly loosen up and enjoy things once he or she gets a taste of fresh air, sunshine and bird song. So go on, get out and play!