Event Report: Walk to School Month at West Woodland

bike fairy fall 13 (Small)by Polly Freeman, West Woodland Elementary

For the month of October, West Woodland students tracked their non-driving trips to school (biking, walking, scootering, bussing) on spreadsheets outside each classroom door.

walkie award at West WoodlandOn International Walk to School Day, we met walkers and bikers outside the school with free breadsticks donated by Great Harvest Bakery. We moved away from giving small trinkets as incentives this year—instead, two high-participating classrooms (K-2 and 3-5) received the first annual “Walkie” award – a golden tennis shoe mounted on a decorative base created by one of our artistic parents and her team of junior artists.

Also, five top walkers and wheelers received headlamps donated by Second Ascent. Winning classes and individuals were recognized during a monthly all-school announcement over the intercom, which reinforced their participation and honored them in front of their peers.we met walkers and bikers outside the school with free breadsticks donated by Great Harvest Bakery.

The “Bike Fairy” was also spotted during Walk and Wheel Month, “catching” walking and wheeling students, and awarding them Hershey’s Kisses and stickers that say, “I got Kissed by the Bike Fairy.”

Kids remembered the Bike Fairy from last year, and were thrilled to spot the Fairy as they walked to and from school.

Breadsticks this Way!

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West Woodland Bike Rodeo Rides Again!

A bike rodeo is a safe and supportive place to get the youngest riders started

A bike rodeo is a safe and supportive place to get even the youngest riders started

guest post by Polly Freeman

Beating the odds on the weather, 65 cyclists and their families enjoyed an afternoon of bike riding at the West Woodland bike rodeo Sunday, April 28. Each cyclist got a helmet fit check before testing their skills at six stations and snacking on fruit and breadsticks. The bike safety check area was bustling with volunteers pumping tires, checking brakes and more. Fourteen cyclists also took home new low-cost helmets, custom-fitted by our volunteers, thanks to the Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation. A dozen riders ventured out on two “urban” rides supported by Cascade Bike Club staff.

Everyone who completed the stations earned their choice of cool stickers, water bottles and patch kits courtesy of Gregg’s Cycles and Free Range Cycles. All riders were also entered in a drawing for NiteIze bike lights.

Thank you so much to our 20 dedicated parent volunteers, veterans and newbies alike, who make the bike rodeo possible – and fun! We rely on West Woodlan staff support and also thank our sponsors and donors, especially Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation, Gregg’s Cycles, Free Range Cycles, Great Harvest and Ballard Market.

Editors note: Reports like this are trickling in as schools around Seattle kick off Bike to School Month this year. Bike rodeos and other kickoff event were held at several schools last week, with more today and next week too. West Woodland is experienced at this, and Polly is too (her fifth bike rodeo!). They’ve worked out the bugs, and hopefully some of their approaches will be useful to others.

West Woodland Bike Rodeo Rider

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!

 

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!

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.

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!