A Banner Year for SDOT Mini-grants

Happy New Year everyone!It is a great time of year for planning ahead to potential events and programs for the spring and fall, and for many schools access to grant funding can play an important role, along with support from school administrations, PTSAs, and parents and staff.

This upcoming year promises to be a huge one for walk and bike to school programs here in Seattle. There was so much energy and growth in Seattle’s walk and bike to school programs in 2012, and if SDOT’s grant program is any indication, we’re just getting started and 2013 will be even bigger.

The Seattle Department of Transportation received a record 30 applications for funding support through their mini-grant program for 2013, and were able to fund nearly all of them. (A couple of grant applications were out of scope due to being too large, or for projects that didn’t fit the grant guidelines established for the call for applications). SDOT has been running this grant program since the 2007 Bridging the Gap levy created this funding source, and this is by far the  biggest year ever in terms of the number of schools participating and the amount of funding dispersed.

$27,700 will support a lot of bike and walk to school events!

$27,700 will support a lot of bike and walk to school events!

All total, SDOT is funding 28 applications totaling $27,700. Most are from individual schools, though Cascade Bicycle Club sought and received a grant for a multi-school programs it is planning to initiate. There is a good geographic diversity to the applications too, with participating schools split pretty evenly around the city.

Most of the schools are Seattle Public Schools, with only two private schools receiving funding. And, notably, most are elementary level or K-8 schools. Only five middle schools are receiving funding, and no high schools this year. While a record 27 schools with grant-funded programs for the coming year is fantastic, we hope that in future years we can see more involvement from private schools and from middle and high schools. Let’s get high school students to sponsor their own programs!

Overall, the breadth of the grant program for 2013 looks really promising, with a range of programs and events to get kids walking and biking. This includes many encouragement programs along with some smaller infrastructure improvements. Some proposed infrastructure improvements such as bike racks didn’t receive grant funding as SDOT believes they can meet the need through other funds.

A couple of highlights and examples:

Loyal Heights Elementary in Ballard is looking to establish an after-school urban cycling club for 4th and 5th graders.  The goal is to provide kids with a strong foundation of bike safety education combined with application of the skills they learn. The program is still under development, and grant funding will be helpful to pay for professional instruction by Cascade Bicycle Club instructors as well as to purchase supplies. Parent volunteers will also be involved, learning about the content and delivery of the curriculum to ensure program continuity into future seasons.  The intent is to create a 4 to 1 ratio of kids to adults, so that students get very personalized instruction, and to include learning and practice initially on school grounds, then ultimately through short, organized rides around the neighborhood. This model is an interesting one; we hope to track the progress and report back as the program is launched and implemented. Perhaps it will create a model for other schools to consider.

Denny International Middle School in West Seattle is establishing a new program this year, and is planning on using the funds on creative incentives to support and encourage more Denny students to choose alternative ways to school, as well as on some dedicated routes to access the school. They are planning on focusing on both student and teacher involvement and will use the funds for signage around the school grounds to make a designated route, along with promotional materials including prizes to reward regular ridership.  Denny also has an opportunity to collaborate with the co-located Chief Sealth International High School and its Major Taylor program. Denny is also beginning to looking at add opportunities for creating covered bike parking using  existing bike racks so weather is not an issue when locking up bikes, though this will likely require additional funding. (Many schools are interested in exploring better bike parking options including covered parking; we’ll explore this in a future post.)

Cascade’s grant proposal is to hold two workshops entitled “Bike Training – How to Run and Ride Your Bike Train,” one in the north end of Seattle and one in the south end. These workshops will be held at community centers and will be open to the public; parents and children will learn how to ride in a bike train on the road. Each workshop will include a short lecture for parents in bike train organization and safe route choices as well as a supervised bike rodeo for children, a skill-building course for parents and a short ride on neighborhood streets. After seeing first-hand the success of the Thornton Creek bike trains this past year, it will be interesting to see whether this program can help launch bike trains at more schools.

SDOT staff also reported a lot of interest in Undriving events this year, with several schools using grant funding to host these to encourage their students to become “Undrivers.”

There are a number of other really cool projects and ideas on tap for 2013. We’ll pass along some more highlights later. For now, this post is sort of the wide-angle view with just a few details. If you want to dive in deeper, check out the full list here. Maybe one of these projects will spark some ideas for your school.

We’re looking forward to an awesome 2013, and can’t wait to hear how all of these new walk and bike initiatives turn out!

Biking to Bryant

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A Kid-powered Holiday Commute — UPDATED

The results are in: Jingle bells, colored lights, yummy treats, and happy kids… we had two fantastic and fun bike to school events just before the holidays.

Serving up treats by headlamp; middle school starts early!

Serving up treats by headlamp; middle school starts early!

This was the first-ever holiday bike celebration at Eckstein, and parent organizers decorated the bike cage the night before, so that we were ready to go when the middle school bikers began to arrive at 7:15 a.m. The holiday bike to school morning was scheduled for the day before winter break, which happened to coincide with the winter solstice this year. It was the darkest morning all school year, and sure enough the early bird kids got there before twilight. Parent volunteers served donuts and cider by headlamp!

In Seattle, middle schoolers end up biking in the dark this time of year, so getting them lit up is essential. We’ve been doling out bike lights at the last few events, and were happy to see that all of the arriving kids had front and rear lights for their bikes. One or two kids needed upgrades, and we were happy to provide them.

For Bryant, this was the second annual holiday bike ramble. Once again, we met at Top Pot Doughnuts for festivities before riding and walking to school as a group. Several families came with their bikes already decorated — including an extracycle with a Charlie Brown tree on the snapdeck! — and we had plenty of decorations available so others could join in the fun.

It’s always great when the school administration participates in these events, and in this case, Bryant’s principal joined us for the festivities. The Seattle Police Department was also on hand to help control the route, with two cruisers and three bike cops who said that once again helping kids get to school on their own power was a lot more fun than their other police work!

Enjoying treats and festivities before the ride to school.

Enjoying treats and festivities before the ride to school.

New for this year, we added some holiday music to the mix at both schools. An iphone with a Rhapsody playlist and one small powered speaker was enough to provide just a little background music. Along with lights, tinsel, and other decorations, the music really added to the holiday mood.

For me, one big highlight of the morning was chatting at length with a middle schooler who rides his bike to school every day. He was the first one to show up at Eckstein, and we had some time to talk a bit before the rest of the Eckstein bikers began to arrive.

This 7th grade biker began riding to school at Wedgwood Elementary in 5th grade, and he never missed a beat when he entered Eckstein. As a sixth grader last year, he was part of our inaugural year of the Eckstein Bikes! program. He reported that riding to school is a blast, and sheepishly mentioned that he didn’t even learn to ride a bike until he was 10 years old. Now he rides every day. Clearly he is a fast learner!

Can’t wait to do it again next year! Happy New Year!

Group ride to Bryant

Group ride to Bryant

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Original Post

What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a community bike or walk to school event? And what better way to demonstrate that walking or biking in the Seattle winter is a viable and even fun way to get to school?

Are you planning an event at your school? A couple of schools are, with rumors of colored lights, holiday outfits, bike decorating, treats, jingle bells, and maybe even a little music.

At Bryant we’ve done this before, and it was a huge hit last time. Okay, admittedly there was a little less turnout than on a beautiful spring day, but we learned that a surprising number of families will show up to bike or walk in the rain, especially if you throw in some holiday festivities.

There is something about gathering with the community to celebrate the holidays and the fun of kid-powered transportation. There is also the great feeling of accomplishment when kids get to school under their own power on a truly wet and chilly Seattle December morning. And who knows, maybe this will be the year that it’s dry and sunny!

One of the goals at Bryant last year was to expand the time of year when families walk or bike, and to encourage that with at least an occasional event in the “off-season.” It’s pretty well-established to host bike events in May and walk events in October, but ultimately we want families to opt for active transportation year-round!

A bonus this year is that the Friday before Seattle Public Schools’ holiday break happens to be the winter solstice, yet another reason to celebrate by getting a group together to walk or bike.

Events are planned at Eckstein and Bryant. We’ll let you know how it goes. And if you have something planned at your school too, feel free to share some ideas.

Happy Holidays!

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A Few October Highlights

Wow, I can’t believe November is nearly over and we’re already into the holiday season. We’ve been meaning to recap a few of the highlights from this past October, when many Seattle schools focused their efforts on IWalk and other walk to school programs.

While the recap is a little tardy, the events themselves were timely, and amounted to a hugely successful walk to school month at a number of local schools. The stories below just scratch the surface, as many schools hosted events. But hopefully these examples can provide some ideas for other schools to consider.

Here are a few highlights:

At West Woodland Elementary, an emphasis on “walking and wheeling” during October involved kids in all forms of sustainable commuting. Over the course of the month, 81% of West Woodland kids walked or wheeled to school at least once, up significantly from last year’s 62%.

According to organizers, this might have been due to the good weather early on, or it might have been due to the West Woodland fairies who surprised the kids with rewards. (Yes, it turns out that bike and walking fairies are beginning to multiply around the city… Bryant and Laurelhurst and now West Woodland too!)

A number of West Woodland parents donned fairy wings, sequined skirts, or other fun accessories and took turns “catching” kids walking or biking to and from school, rewarding them with stickers and Hershey’s kisses for their efforts. There was quite a buzz around school about the fairies and the parents had fun doing it, too.  Every walker received a small goody bag, and West Woodland held a bike blender smoothie party for the two classes with top participation. The top five individual walkers also received headlamps donated by Second Ascent.

Bagley walkers

At Bagley Elementary, the school’s “Let’s Move” program got up and running for the school year in October. Like West Woodland, this program involves both walking  and biking to school, including organized groups along several walking school bus routes. As Bagley works to promote active transportation choices, they also host school walks and runs for the kids on the Bagley track in the mornings as well. Bagley plans to run its Let’s Move program for the rest of the year.

Salmon Bay K-8 pulled together its first ever Walk to School day at the end of October this year. It was a huge success! The walk to school day involved five walking school buses and several of them had twenty students and 5-10 adults!  Several teachers & staff joined the buses as well, and Salmon Bay’s event even made the local news!

Salmon Bay had about 100 student walkers overall.  Organizers report that participation and encouragement by a new principal and assistant principal this year who are both dedicated to walking and biking to school helped tremendously. This is yet another reminder of how a supportive administration can really help these programs take off.

Bryant’s walking school buses were a huge success as well, with over 100 kids participating in one or more of the Friday morning buses. Bryant families gathered at four stations, each a few blocks from school, and from there walked to school en masse. One smaller group set up timed stops along about a one-mile route, ultimately joining up at the north station for the final walk to school. It was great fun!

On the final Friday, Bryant’s north walking bus added kid instruments (recorders, drums, even pots and pans) to enhance the parade. On that final Friday, the “Walking Wizard” paid a visit as well, to reward kids who walked.

And Laurelhurst had a fantastic month too, with a sequence of events that kicked off the month and provided support along the way, with a final wrap-up event as well. This all added up to huge participation, with the entire school joining a kick-off assembly and an “all-school walk” early in the month, and then nearly half of the students following through with sustainable commuting and tracking their trips over the course of the month.

Obviously we’re deeper into the rainy and dark season in Seattle now, but we’ve seen some sunny and dry periods like the first part of this week as well. Hopefully we’ll continue to see a few glimpses of sun over the course of the winter, along with a few opportunities to encourage families to break out their rain gear to walk or bike to school.

Hopefully these schools and others can build on the momentum of October and support families to explore getting to school under their own power over the course of the winter.

And for school organizers, the next few months are a perfect time to lay the groundwork for walk and bike to school programs for the coming spring!

Walk-to-school traffic jam!

“Walktober” at Laurelhurst

Laurelhurst Elementary has one of the largest and longest-running walk and bike to school programs in Seattle. Parent volunteers have been at this for a long time, and have a good sense for what it takes to create excitement and get more kids to school under their own power. Once again, they have started right at the beginning of the school year.

The whole school took a walk…
together with Charlie the Chicken!

Laurelhurst has a tradition of celebrating “Walktober,” a month-long campaign they run in conjunction with International Walk to School Month. Organizers have found that getting families started thinking about transportation early in the year can help them “get off on the right foot” and develop good habits that can last throughout the year and beyond.

Laurelhurst’s Walktober program helps families establish a habit of walking, biking, scootering, or taking the bus to school early in the school year.  The program has not only helped develop sustainable habits, but also increased kids’ awareness of the importance of daily activity.

Laurelhurst typically begins the month with a kickoff event. This year the event included an assembly followed by an all-school walk around the school grounds, with the kindergarten classes leading the way. This is the first time they’ve started the month with an all-school event like this, and it was a huge success. What better way to educate kids about the fun of getting around under your own power than a walk with hundreds of friends and classmates?

Kicking things off with an assembly

The Walktober assembly included an entertaining and informative skit with “Charlie the Chicken” that was educational and well received by the students and staff. It turns out that Charlie is pretty funny. He can also ride a bike, a scooter, and even a unicycle. And reportedly he can dance too.

Not surprisingly, a large chicken with all those tricks plus a little knowledge about the benefits of walking and biking to school ends up being quite a hit with the kids and their parents. In fact, organizers heard from many parents after the assembly that their child came home from school and said, “We have to do Walktober!” Generating enthusiasm and a culture where the kids are pushing the parents to let them walk or bike is such a key to a successful program.

For the kickoff event, Laurelhurst had strong support from Feet First, and the children all received a tracking calendar and a healthy snack of fresh organic apples donated to the school from Metropolitan Market.

The rest of the month included more walk to school events such as meet-ups at local bakeries to walk to school as a group, culminating in an upcoming final celebration this Friday. The kids have been tracking their trips and looking forward to some recognition and prizes. There’s nothing like a little good-old-fashioned competition to get more kids walking. No word yet on how many kids have participated this year, but in the past they’ve had as many as 150 to 190 students join the fun! (Quick update — over 160 kids participated this year!)

Laurelhurst has had a fantastic walk and bike to school program for many years, so it’s fun to hear how it continues to grow and thrive! Way to go Laurelhurst!

Mmmm, yummy healthy treats.

Another Family Greenway Ride!

What were the odds? As if a bike train on the newest neighborhood greenway this coming Friday weren’t enough, a family bike ride is planned for the pending Ballard greenway next Sunday!

There’s a strong bike-to-school connection for this one as well. It’s being organized by Shannon Koller, who is doing fantastic work helping kids bike to Loyal Heights Elementary, along with folks from Ballard Greenways.

The goal of the ride is to get families out riding on the funded but not yet constructed NW 58th St. neighborhood greenway to learn about this great new route that will improve access to several local schools.

From Shannon:

“You and your family are invited to a Family Bike Ride on the Ballard Greenway on Sunday, October 28 at 10 a.m.

Greenways are designed to connect people on bikes and on foot to their neighborhood destinations on low-traffic streets.  The Ballard Greenway, primarily on NW 58th Street, has been funded by the City of Seattle and is currently in the design phase.   This charming east/west route in south Ballard is scheduled to be complete in Spring 2013 and will connect us to the Burke Gilman Trail and link us to other neighborhoods.

Meet at the Ballard Commons Park (5701 22nd Ave NW) at 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 28 to ride along with us as we learn more about this exciting project.  We’ll first explore the west side of the Greenway to see how it links with the Burke Gilman Trail, pass by the Ballard Library, then explore the east side of the Greenway before returning to the Ballard Commons and on to the Ballard Farmer’s Market.  Volunteers from the Ballard Greenway will be on hand to answer questions about the project.

The ride is short (approximately 2 miles) to accommodate our younger family members.  We will encounter gentle hills, roundabouts, marked and unmarked intersections, uneven and cracked pavement, traffic lights, and a bike lane.  In other words, this will be a perfect opportunity to teach our emerging urban cyclists about how to successfully navigate these elements in a supportive and fun environment.”

Should be a great opportunity to meet other families and bike-to-school and greenways advocates while checking out NW 58th and touring the proposed greenway.

Bike train Friday morning? And a family bike ride on Sunday? Sounds like a great weekend of bike to school and greenways connections!

Celebrate a New Greenway: Join the Bike Train!

Seattle’s second neighborhood greenway is scheduled for completion, and it happens to coincide with one of our favorite walk and bike to school projects, the Thornton Creek bike trains!

The new greenway runs along 39th Ave. NE, which happens to be the southern bike train route to Thornton Creek.

Childrens Hospital is the sponsor of this new greenway through their Livable Streets Initiative. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has also been doing a great job of working with the city and with neighbors to help get greenways like this one implemented throughout Seattle. While this is only the second one constructed to date, more are planned in the coming years.

Many readers will be familiar with them, but for those who may not be, a neighborhood greenway is a local street with features that create a safer environment for walking and biking to local parks, schools, and other neighborhood destinations. Some of the best greenways will help kids and families get to school more safely.

39th Ave. NE under construction.
This connection to the BG is complete now!

Childrens recognizes that kids and families will be a primary user group of the new 39th Ave. NE project. The greenway should help Thornton Creek students — and some from Bryant and Eckstein as well — navigate their way across arterial streets and get to school a little more easily and safely. With the greenway nearing completion, Childrens has scheduled a ribbon cutting ceremony to coincide with the October 26 running of the Thornton Creek bike train!

What could be cooler than a bike train on a greenway? Greenways and bike trains are two new cutting edge walk and bike initiatives here in Seattle, and it’s really fun to see them connected in this way. Hopefully this event will help demonstrate to the community the value and fun of both neighborhood greenways and of kids walking and biking to school.

Here are the details for next Friday’s event. While it’s timed for the departure of the bike train, neighbors and other community members are welcome to join too.

Riding with the Thornton Creek bike train is really fun and inspiring. If you have a chance, swing by the southern station next Friday morning and hop on board!

The Thornton Creek bike train rolling along last spring.
The greenway project has improved these arterial crossings.

SDOT Mini-Grants

It’s mini-grant time of year again!

Do you live in Seattle? Kids go to a Seattle school? Are you interested in helping create a walk and bike culture?

Consider applying for a Safe Routes to School mini-grant from the Seattle Department of Transportation, and get some financial assistance to shift the culture at your school.

The grant round for 2013 is open now, with applications due in early November. The maximum grant amount is $1000, and funds will be available for use beginning in the 2013 calendar year.

These grants can be so helpful in launching or enhancing a bike and walk program. Past grants have been used for:

  • Incentives, prizes, and treats to reward kids who walk or bike to school
  • Safety improvements like signage or flags for arterial crosswalks
  • Small infrastructure improvements like new bike racks
  • Promotional materials to encourage families to walk or bike
  • Bike rodeos and other education programs or events
  • Lots of other creative programs and projects to help families get to school in a sustainable way

These grants are really a cornerstone of creating a walk and bike to school program at your local school. Some dedicated funding can make all the difference in getting started.

Get together with other parents, your PTSA, staff, and your school administration and consider applying for the coming year!