Recap of Fall Info Sharing Meeting

Folks from 9 schools and several other organizations attended the information sharing session earlier this month. Many other folks expressed interest, but couldn’t make it due to a variety of conflicts. This time of year is especially busy in the school communities!

The major topics we discussed included:

Ballard Bikes
The new Ballard Bikes program is a multi-school collaboration to get kids biking and walking to school at several Ballard schools (currently seven). The focus is on year-round encouragement and sharing of resources, as well as creating a “bigger buzz” about active commuting in Ballard. The schools have already co-hosted a bike rodeo at the Ballard Neighborhood Greenway opening, and are holding a bike to school kick-off event on September 28 at Salmon Bay K-8.

International Walk to School Month and IWalk
October is International Walk to School Month. All local schools are encouraged to participate. One way to get plugged in is through Feet First, which has many resources available to help plan and run events. Schools can use a variety of approaches, ranging from a single day event, to weekly or month-long events to encourage walking to school. Wednesday, October 9, is International Walk to School Day. To register an IWalk event, go to

SDOT Mini-grants
It is almost mini-grant season. Last year 29 schools and organizations received grants — a record year! At the meeting, Seattle Department of Transportation requested input on the size of grants, the outreach flyer they are using, etc. There was no shortage of ideas; two good ones were (1) to consider changing the timing of the annual grant program so it coincides with the school year, and (2) to augment the existing annual grant program with smaller “quick start” type grants so that new schools could apply any time. The tentative date for applications for 2014 funding is October 25.
School Road Safety Initiative
The City of Seattle’s School Road Safety Initiative involves both planning and implementation to improve traffic safety in and near school zones. The major elements are a city-wide plan, traffic safety plans around twenty schools, and Safe Routes to School projects. The work will address all five “E’s” of Safe Routes to School — engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation.  Funding for both planning and implementation is coming from traffic speed cameras installed in school zones, and currently $14.8 million is anticipated for 2013-14., with a mayor proposed list of projects under review at this time as well.
Folks in attendance shared information on a few other upcoming events and initiatives as well, including tonight’s Green Your School Fair at Lincoln High School.
Thanks to all who could attend, and to everyone else who expressed interest as well. Here’s to another year of walking and biking to school!


Fall 2013 Walk and Bike to School Info Session

Parents, teachers, staff, and students across Seattle are beginning another school year. As the instruction and extracurricular activities begin, parents are also planning the school commutes that take tens of thousands of Seattle kids from where they live to where they learn. So It’s a great time to get the creative juices flowing and share ideas for helping more of our kids choose active and sustainable transportation for this coming year.

Come meet with other walk and bike to school organizers and advocates next Tuesday and get things rolling for another school year.

Fall 2013 Info Sharing Session

Tuesday, September 10, from 6:00 to 7:45 p.m.
Ballard branch, Seattle Public Library, 5614 22nd Ave NW

Are you a Safe Routes to School organizer at your local school? A parent interested in starting a program? A community member interested in what the buzz is about and maybe wanting to lend a hand? This meeting is for you.

Next Tuesday evening will be an opportunity to share updates, ideas, and plans for ramping up walking and biking this year.

The agenda will include:

  • “Ballard Bikes” multi-school walk and bike to school plans
  • Creative ideas from individual schools to get more kids walking and biking (share yours with others!)
  • A report from Feet First on October Walk to School Month
  • A report from SDOT on upcoming Safe Routes to School mini-grant opportunities
  • The latest on the School Road Safety Task Force

This event is open to everyone in the community who is interested in increasing walking and biking to Seattle schools. Hope you can join us and please spread the word.

Their are good options for getting to the Ballard library by bike, on foot, or on public transportation. There is bike parking out front and the library is near several bus routes. If you drive, you can park for free in the garage underneath.

Seattle has seen continuing growth in the number of schools promoting active transportation, and in the number of families choosing to commute to school under their own power. Let’s work together to maintain the momentum in 2013-14!

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Bike to School Month is Almost Here!

Sacajawea bikersReady for Bike to School Month? May 1st is right around the corner.

If you’re not fully prepared, don’t panic. Folks at other schools are still hatching their plans too. May sneaks up on us every year, and this year is no different.

And this year Bike to School Day is May 8th — earlier in the month than usual. So now is prime time for finalizing plans to get more kids biking at your school this spring.

Maybe you want to put together a month-long program. Or perhaps a one-day activity on Bike to School Day. Or maybe you’re thinking of once-a-week activities — maybe Bike to School Fridays with something planned each week.

Any of these approaches are great, and in fact many established programs started small. Even a modest Bike to School Day event can begin to create a bike culture at your school.

The primary purpose of is to share information among schools — tips and techniques, including what has worked at other schools. So if you’re planning some bike to school activities for May and beyond, hopefully the following links to some past posts will be useful.

And if getting kids walking is more your thing, that’s cool too. May is also an awesome time to walk to school!

Without further ado, here are links to some posts that focus on various aspects of putting together a bike or walk to school day, month, or longer term program:

The Big Picture

Some specific ideas

Highlights from a few schools

And some walk to school ideas

Hope this is helpful as you gear up for May and the rest of the spring. Let us know how it goes!

Let's fill the bike racks at every Seattle school this May!

Let’s fill the bike racks at every Seattle school this May!

The Thornton Creek Bike Train Project

Until this past year, Seattle had no bike trains. At least none that we’re aware of. Walking school buses? Yes. Group rides from the doughnut shop to school? Check. Bike rodeos? You bet.

But no bike trains — even though they are one of those very cool ideas you read about from time to time, and think, “Wow, that would be a great way to help families and kids get to school under their own power!”

Portland has been known for its bike trains, and it seemed natural that Seattle could at least give this approach a try. Until 2012 though, no one had really stepped up to see whether the model could work here.

Maya and the bike train arriving at the Thornton Creek station

Maya and the bike train arriving at the Thornton Creek station

The beginnings of a bike train

This all changed last spring, when Maya Jacobs, a senior in the Community Environment and Planning program at the UW, had the brainstorm to bring bike trains to Seattle. Inspired by a bike tour she had taken the previous summer, she decided to focus her senior capstone project on biking for transportation. She considered bike route mapping, or design of a bike lane or some other infrastructure improvement. But when she came upon the idea of bike trains, she was hooked. She saw the benefits of working with people to help them adopt new commute behaviors, rather than focusing on changes to the physical environment to make it more bike-friendly. This focus on encouragement and support is a cornerstone of many of the walk and bike to school programs at local schools.

Maya also saw the potential for helping local kids become more capable and independent. As she put it, “It’s really empowering for kids when they don’t have to rely on their parents for everything.” Promoting biking for transportation can really help to build the capacity and independence of our Seattle children.

Maya chose Thornton Creek Elementary, a school that she herself had attended, as a logical place to launch her project. Soon the Thornton Creek bike trains were born. I had a chance to ride along with the Thornton Creek Bike Trains on several occasions, and also had an opportunity to sit down with Maya to learn a little more about how the project started, how it was received, and how others might start something similar.

Some key factors and the basic approach

One thing Maya found was that recruiting a core group of dedicated parents is key. She felt the Thornton Creek school community was well-suited to trying something like this, given the alternative school’s experiential learning approach. Thornton Creek also had a well-developed network of parents and a reasonably favorable geography and road netword around the school. Working with a parent group, Maya was able to plot out two bike train routes, both of which had the advantages of being only moderately hilly (they both ran north-south) and not being cut off by an uber-arterial like Hwy. 99 or Lake City Way. The routes did both cross lower traffic arterials, but the planning group determined they would be manageable with parents riding along for support.

Thornton Creek was a good place to try this. But honestly, the characteristics of involved parents and a reasonable geography apply to many Seattle schools. In fact, many of our schools have a community of folks who might jump at the opportunity to help out with something like this and even become dedicated volunteers. Maybe they are avid bike riders themselves, or maybe they have an interest in creating a more sustainable environment. Or maybe they simply appreciate the opportunity to improve their school community through efforts like these.

Maya kicked the program into gear with an introductory meeting at a parent’s home, recruited some volunteers to help, and established a basic schedule and set of bike train rules to keep everyone safe. If you start a bike train yourself, feel free to build from Maya’s templates.

Northbound for Thornton Creek Elementary

Northbound for Thornton Creek Elementary

Rolling out of the station

The bike trains rolled into action last May, and ran every Friday that month. The ridership grew to as many as 40 kids on their bikes, and I can personally attest they were well-organized and always left the station on time. They were also incredibly fun — the kids had a blast and the parents did too!

Maya’s bike train project helped her complete her undergraduate studies and get her diploma. It also created a lasting program at Thornton Creek that has carried on as she has moved on to other adventures. Parents continued the bike trains on a weekly basis after Maya’s project wrapped up in the spring, and picked up again from the first week of school this past fall. The Thornton Creek bike train even had the honor of helping to open the 39th Ave. neighborhood greenway in October.

While Thornton Creek parents hadn’t previously thought to establish bike trains, it turned out they just needed a catalyst to help get started.

Getting more Seattle trains rolling

So in the end, what does it take to start a bike train at your school? A little bit of organizational savvy, some commitment and follow-through, and a dose of passion for kid-powered commuting! While having a student with a cool senior project to sharpen your focus might help, it certainly isn’t essential (especially now that Maya has mapped out a basic approach). Bike trains are well within the grasp of a group of motivated parents.

It’s not too early to think about a bike train program for your school this spring. It can be as frequent or infrequent as you like (once a week seems to work well). Maya put together some helpful guidelines to get you started, and the word on the street is she’s still in Seattle and might be persuaded to help another school get their kids on the road this year.

Want to dig a little deeper as you plan for bike trains at your local school? The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has put together a useful set of tips and techniques from bike train programs in other cities that is worth a look as well.

We also noticed that Cascade Bicycle Club received an SDOT mini-grant this year to help parents get bike trains started. Last we heard, they were planning some workshops for this April, and my guess is they’ll be announcing dates and details soon. Even more confirmation that the bike train movement in Seattle is growing!

All aboard!


The Loyal Heights Urban Cycling Club

Loyal Heights urban bikersIf you were an elementary school student just getting comfortable on your bike and navigating your neighborhood, how cool would it be to be part of a bike club to work on skills and ride with your friends?

It’s no wonder that so many kids are on sports teams, in scouts or band, or participate in other activities. It’s super fun to get together with some other like-minded kids to build skills and learn from a coach and each other. And biking clearly has the same potential: so many adults enjoy the social aspects of cycling and belong to a club or a team or just appreciate riding with friends.

So a bike club for kids seems like a no-brainer, right? But there aren’t many at the elementary school level in Seattle. That is beginning to change, however, and one of the more interesting new initiatives in Seattle’s bike to school world is an after-school club recently founded at Loyal Heights Elementary in Ballard. We’ve touched on it before, highlighting it as one of the many promising 2013 programs receiving some support from Safe Routes to School mini-grants this year.

I’m excited to report the club has been formed and the fun has begun! From Loyal Heights parent and bike to school organizer Shannon Koller:

The Loyal Heights After-School Urban Cycling Club is off and rolling after a very successful first meeting last Friday.  Seventeen 3rd – 5th graders are participating in this new after-school club, 10 of which are girls!  After learning each others names, we started off with helmet fit, then went on to ABC quick check and how to lock up your bike.  Sensing a growing energy in the group, we got the kids on their bikes and taught them the basics of starting, stopping, standing, and shifting.

The kids really seemed to like the ability to learn something, then immediately practice it.  This week we will teach hand signals, road signs, rules of the road, then practice skills like rock dodge, scanning, quick stop, slalom and more.  Theory and application is the center of the curriculum and we will eventually be taking our lessons on to the neighborhood streets in April for organized rides to the Ballard Library, Sunset Overlook Park, and the Ballard Greenway.  Each week kids will practice riding through roundabouts, unmarked intersections, bike lanes, and other urban infrastructure that they will encounter in our neighborhood.

Demonstrating proper braking techniques

Demonstrating proper braking techniques

The cool thing about this bike club is that it’s focused on helping kids develop real-world riding skills appropriate to Seattle and specifically to the neighborhood around Loyal Heights and Ballard. This will empower these kids to become independent, competent urban cyclists!

Shannon also reports that Loyal Heights is already planning for Bike to School month, and shared some early details. They expect to hold a kickoff event on Saturday, April 27 on the school playground with a bike skills workshop, bike adjustment station, helmet sale, and more.  Kickoff events are a great way to start bike to school months or springtime biking in general, by giving families some initial support and encouragement, and simply providing a specific time to get the community focused on the potential for kids getting to school under their own power. Loyal Heights also plans to hold organized neighborhood rides to take place right after the event.

Loyal Heights is also considering organizing some bike trains too, possibly on Bike to School Day. We’ll be posting a little more info on bike trains in the near future.

It’s awesome to hear that schools are already launching springtime bike to school programs!

Making signs for an urban biking course

Making signs for an urban biking course

Obstacles are Awesome!

Did we mention kids love obstacle courses? Apparently adults do too. A while back, we wrote about an obstacle course that we’ve used at several local schools, and it’s turned out to be one of our more popular posts.

Typical obstacle courseOver the years, we’ve found that turning kids loose on an obstacle course is one of the highlights of a bike-to-school event. Since other folks out there are interested in building obstacle courses for kid bikers too, we thought sharing a few more details might be useful. Let us know if you’ve got some ideas for safe and fun new obstacles to add to our inventory.

The basic approach we’ve used in creating the obstacles and course:

Keep it simple. You only need to invest as much time in building obstacles as you want to. Feel free to go crazy and design and embellish to your heart’s content, but it really doesn’t take a lot of time to put something together the kids will enjoy.

Keep it cheap. Recycle scrap materials if possible. Fun and safe obstacles are doable on a low budget.

Keep it safe. Of course safety is paramount. So scale the size of obstacles to the size of the kids and their bikes. You really don’t need to go big like they do on the North Shore. In fact, elementary school kids — especially the K-2 set — can have a lot of fun on smaller obstacles and anything too large won’t work very well for 16″ or 20″ wheel bikes anyway. Also secure the course really well. Flagging around the perimeter with only one entrance and one exit is key. So are adult or older kid volunteers controlling the timing of kids entering the course, and spotting the kids as they are going over the trickier obstacles.

Involve the kids. For a long time we used plain wood obstacles (from

recycled or scrap wood to the extent possible) and that worked just fine. But then we had the inspiration to get some kids involved in painting the obstacles fun colors and spray painting bikey sayings on them. And that created a sense of ownership for the kids, and made the obstacles way more fun too. Older kids can help with course control too.

Mix it up. It’s always fun to add a new obstacle or two, and also fun to change the course around each time.

A backyard painting party is a great way to involve the kid bikers

A backyard painting party is a great way to involve the kid bikers

Some of the types of obstacles and related stuff we’ve used that have worked well include:

Two ramps side by side can provide options

Two ramps side by side can provide options

Ramps — A simple run-up to a ledge is really fun and super-simple to build. It’s not too different than riding off a curb, but for some reason it’s way more fun! An 8-foot long piece of plywood is suitable for the length of the ramp, and the width can be the full four feet or something less (narrower is more challenging, but also risks more falls off the side, so use your judgment). Smaller ramps can be less than a full 8 feet long too. Either way, leave the ramp flat on the ground at one end, and screw it to a piece of 2x lumber at the other. Depending on the size and experience of the kids and their bikes, anything from a 2×4 to a 2×12 might be suitable. Or create two ramps, line them up next to each other and give the kids options.

Teeter-totters — These are a little more complex and challenging, but have

Teeter-totters are always a huge hit!

Teeter-totters are always a huge hit!

been a HUGE hit with the kids. An 8-foot long piece of plywood works for these as well, though honestly something longer might work even better, especially for higher teeter-totters. The hinge point is key — both its height and its construction. We’ve found about 8″ high to be a nice balance of challenge, fun, and safety (no guarantees though; spot the kids!). We’ve tried a few simple designs for the “hinge”; basically they’ve just been variations on getting a 2×4 6″ or more off the ground, with something on either end to keep the ramp from sliding off. We’ve never permanently secured the plywood to the hinge, so these can be disassembled in an instant; though they also take a little more oversight to keep everything lined up and working well. Coming up with an improved hinge joint would be a nice enhancement, but we haven’t really pursued it yet. We’ve also tried much higher teeter totters and honestly they were a little too sketchy for a wide range of kids. If you’ve got a group of all BMXers and either a soft landing zone (set up the course on grass?) or everyone is wearing pads, then go for it. But if not, and certainly for a typical after-school event, best to keep it on the lower and safer side so everyone has fun and no one gets hurt.

Hoops to duck under — We’ve set up all manner of cut-in-half hula hoops and similar features at just the right height for kids to barely ride under them with a little effort. Add a few streamers and these are really fun. Rigging them up with safety cones to provide some stability for the uprights has worked well.

Cones for corners — This is a simple one, but what would an obstacle course be without some challenging corners. Cones work really well for this.

Rumble strip — This is a newer feature we’ve used the last couple of years. Not super-challenging, but pretty fun to ride over, especially for the smaller kids. Basically just a few brightly painted 1x2s glued onto a sheet of plywood to keep them from moving around. Rrrrummble!

Bike limbo

Speed Bumps

Entrances and exits — Leave a gap in the perimeter flagging at each end of the course, add a couple of uprights or use an existing feature on your school grounds, and add some streamers and decorations. A set of hanging streamers off a bamboo pole or similar can make a fun final feature to ride through.

Small cones, fake “rock” obstacles, etc. — A couple of short fields of tricky stuff in the road to avoid adds a bit more bike handling to the mix.

Sidewalk chalk and safety flagging — We’ve typically used sidewalk chalk to mark the course and safety flagging around the perimeter.

Be creative and have fun and the kids will too. When we we set these up, the line of kid bikers extends across the playground. Shutting the course down for the day is the biggest challenge of all!

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Plan now for the coming Spring!

It’s still a little wintry out, for Seattle anyway. But the days are getting longer and spring is right around the corner. For many of us, late winter is the season for bike swaps, chilly-hilly rides, and final laps to the ski hill. It’s also an excellent time for spring bike to school planning.

Seattle’s “official” Bike to School Month is in May, coinciding with Bike to Work Month. And the word on the street is that Bike to School Day this year is May 8, so mark your calendars.

May is still a couple months off, but we’ve found that getting an early start is essential. Maybe this means holding a parent meeting in March. Or hosting a kick-off event or bike rodeo in April. Or just coming up with a strategy for starting or growing a walk and bike culture at your school this coming spring.

Planning for a successful event — or better yet for a successful month or longer-term program — requires thinking ahead. Some ways to get started:

  • Put together a team. Find some like-minded parents and staff or administrators to work with.
  • Come up with some fun and creative events, anything from a Bike to School Day blitz to a month-long set of activities. Check out previous blog posts here to get some ideas.
  • Come up with a strategy for communication and advertising.
  • Source some donations or discounts from local businesses. Bakeries and bike stores are especially helpful to have on board!
  • Get your administration and PTSA involved.
  • Talk it up with other parents.

Once you’ve established a plan and a team and gotten some resources together, you’re on your way.

Need some more ideas about how to get going? Check out our Getting Started post from last year. And look forward to a meeting or two in the next few months to compare notes among schools as we collectively launch springtime programs.

There’s no better time than now to begin gearing up for a springtime of biking to school!

You can even get the kids involved in bike planning. Here some middle schoolers envision better parking.

Consider getting the students involved in bike to school planning! Here some middle schoolers envision bike parking improvements.


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