Help Out With Trailblazing Bike Train Research!

Hello!

After a year of life without bike trains, I am back on board with Seattle Children’s Research Institute on a bike train research project. I am really excited to be working on a project that will determine the impact of physical activity (namely biking) on the health of school children. Our results will help inform kids, parents, teachers and organizers of the benefits of biking to school.

And right now we need your help! We are in the preliminary equipment testing stage and are looking for about 40 kids ages 9-12 who can ride a bike to spend about 1.5 hours with us at a Seattle park or community center. Each kid will wear an accelerometer, GPS, and heart rate monitor while completing various simple physical activities. You and your child’s information will be completely confidential and anonymity of research participants will be protected. Participants will be rewarded with $30 for their time.  

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Contact Maya for more information

If you are interested please contact me. Your participation is REALLY helpful and will be GREATLY appreciated. Email me (Maya) at: maya.jacobs@seattlechildrens.org.

 

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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 walk.bike.schools 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 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 walk.bike.schools 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.

It’s Walktober!

International Walk to School Month begins today! Spread the word at your school and let’s get Seattle kids walking.

Bagley Elementary had three walking school buses last year and are adding some more for 2012-13.

At West Woodland, they’ve had a big walking school bus going for years! They’ve established some great guidelines to make sure everyone is safe and accounted for, and has fun as well.

Even at bike-crazy Bryant Elementary, walking school buses are all the rage this fall! Bryant has established four stations — each a few blocks from school — and parents are hosting meet-ups every Friday, and then families are walking to school en masse.

At Dearborn Elementary, in past years they’ve even had the principal and teachers lead their walking school buses!

If you want more info or some examples from these schools, let us know and we’ll set you up!

The Seattle School District passed a new transportation policy last year that requires each elementary and K-8 principal to establish at least one walking school bus by the 2013-14 school year. Let’s hold them to it, but also show them how it’s done by getting out and walking this fall.

Walking school buses can be simple or complex. In the old days, we just walked to school, right? But often we picked up friends along the way because that made it more fun. In its essence a walking school bus is no more than that: just a fun and healthy way for a group to get to school together. It can have timed routes with multiple stops, or just be a simple meet-up location for several families to leave together. Or a “bus” can be informal, with friends and neighbors just electing to walk to school together.

It’s never too late to rally some friends to walk or bike, or even to organize a small event. Feet First has made some nice template posters available that can easily be adapted, and posted at your school.

Let’s get Seattle school kids walking now! What are you doing at your school to help build this kid-powered movement?

Even Bryant’s walking. Well, and biking too!

Getting Started

“Wow, this kid-powered commuting thing sounds fun and I’d love to get something going at our school. But how do I start?”

Recently, a lot of folks have been asking about how to start a walking or biking program at their school. Literally, what is the first step?

Starting a new program in a school that doesn’t have a walk/bike culture can seem a little daunting. Even more so if you’re new to the school, say a kindergarten or 6th grade parent in your first year there.

In one sense, there’s no simple answer. There are as many ways to start a program as there are parents and staff who are interested in doing so. But in another sense, it’s very simple: just start!

Really there’s no wrong approach, and any steps you take to begin walking or biking yourself, or to promote kid-powered commuting to other families, can work.

Walking as a group is easy and fun!

A few ideas that have worked for others:

Start small. Beginning a program with a big spashy event is fine, but it’s also perfectly okay to begin by getting a few friends and neighbors together and beginning to walk or bike. It doesn’t need to be formal, advertised, or anything else unless you want to. Are you a walking school bus? A bike train? Maybe… or it’s fine if you are just some friends walking or riding to school together.

Talk it up. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. Drop off and pickup times at elementary schools are great opportunities to talk with other parents about what you have in mind, meet other folks with similar interests in kid-powered commuting, and to begin to grow a community of walkers and bikers at your school.

Walk the talk. Or bike the talk if that suits you better! Just showing up day after day with kids who have gotten to school under their own power is a fun and infectious way to drum up interest.

Make it fun. Honestly it’s hard not to. Kids and parents seem to find walking or biking more fun than other commuting modes. Especially once you link up with other friends and neighbors and begin to build some community around it. Sometimes parents just need a little encouragement to give it a try. As you begin to grow a program, incorporating some treats or trinkets or stickers into the mix is helpful too.

Connect with other parents. Ultimately it’s easier to create and grow a program with a team. It’s a lot more fun too. Connect through word-of-mouth. Or advertise in the school newsletter. Host an info table at curriculum night or another school event. Once you get a team going, you’ll be unstoppable.

Partner with a teacher. If you can find a teacher or two who are genuinely interested in this, it is incredibly helpful. There’s nothing quite as inspiring for kids as a teacher who parks their bike in the corner of the classroom each day and encourages students to give it a try. At some schools, this is a natural as there might be a teacher or two who are already excited about getting kids walking or biking, and they just need some parents to work with. At other schools you’ll need to do more work to find a teacher or two to recruit as partners. Ask around. Talk to parents and teachers and staff to find good candidates. Often the PE teacher is a good bet: talk to her and get her excited about walking and biking.

Paper the neighborhood.
By foot or bike of course!

Get the administration and PTSA on board.You don’t have to; in fact a lot can be accomplished without any formal school involvement. But ultimately getting the principal or other key administrators to help promote the program is a powerful tool, and Seattle schools need more administrators stepping up to do this to re-shape our commute patterns. Same with the PTSA; you can work outside of that structure, but ultimately they can be helpful for advertising, fundraising, managing a grant, etc. This can be as easy as setting up a meeting with the principal (they work for you, don’t they?) or presenting at a PTSA board meeting.

Take it to the next level and plan an event. You don’t need to start with a month or year of walking or biking events, though that is a worthy longer term goal. It might be easiest to pick one day, assemble a team to help with planning and day-of activities, advertise in a few obvious places, and go for it! If it turns out to be a big hit, fantastic! If it turns out you get a handful of families to participate the first time, that’s awesome too as you can grow from there.

Good old fashioned posters work wonders. IWalk and other templates make it easy.

Keep at it. One event — small or large — can lead to another. And once you have a few families on board the creative juices will start to flow. With some persistence, you’ll grow a movement at your school before you know it.

Be patient. It’s okay if it takes a while to really get things going. And if you’re new to a school, part of the trick is getting to know the lay of the land — PTSA, administration, other parents and families. So take your time but be persistent. Regardless, it’ll be a fun ride! There’s nothing quite as rewarding as walking or biking with a bunch of kids getting there on their own power.

Good luck… It’s a great time to begin!