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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Creating a Walk/Bike Culture

This year, for the first time, biking to school is a prominent part of the Bryant Elementary yearbook! With a half-page spread, the Bike to Bryant program takes its place among the annual play, the Halloween Prowl, Science Fair, and other school traditions. Why not? Like these other activities, biking to school has become “just one of those things we do” at Bryant, every year and for some, every day. Giving it some recognition is part of creating a culture at school of promoting, celebrating, participating in, and “just doing it” when it comes to walking and biking to school. It’s a nice half page spread; maybe next year the other half can be for “Walking to Bryant!”

Bike to Bryant makes the school yearbook

To really reach a tipping point of families routinely choosing to walk or bike instead of drive to school, it will take a shift in the culture of our schools. A lot of emphasis to date has been on walk or bike to school “events” that promote walking or biking for a day, a week, or a month. These events are great — they create a lot of excitement, introduce families to different modes of transportation they may not have considered, and provide a lot of support for trying them out. They are also huge fun and create a real sense of community around walking and biking. But for many families,  after the event is over, it’s back to the usual modes of getting to and from school.

One goal of the Bike to Bryant program the last couple of years has been to build a biking and walking culture at Bryant to encourage families to create a new and more sustainable daily routine. We’ve been holding at least an occasional event year-round, to help families see that walking and biking can be a daily habitat all year here in Seattle. One especially fun event was a group ride to school on the day before winter break, with lots of folks and bikes dressed in holiday decorations. One parent commented to me that it was the first time she had ever ridden her bike in the rain! And that it wasn’t too bad at all!

We’ve also been working with the school administration to get their more active support for and participation in these programs. This includes having the principal’s office be a strong voice for our bike program to the school community. It helps for families to hear of the value of walking and biking not only from parent organizers, but also directly from the school’s administrative leaders. The principal has a bully pulpit; so why not put it to use! This past year, the administration has talked about the program in the weekly newsletter and the occasional “email blast” to the entire school. And the vice principal came out to direct traffic across NE 65th for one of our Top Pot Doughnut rides! (I’ll cover getting the administration on board in more detail in a future post.)

Another approach we’ve been using is to create more of a sense of permanence and continuity from year to year. We are finding ways to place references to walking and biking in high profile spaces, and to both celebrate and normalize these modes of transportation.

The winning class gets the Bike to Bryant award!

The yearbook page is an example of this, showcasing biking to school in a place where kids and families can’t miss it and where it becomes part of the culture and shared memory of our school. The permanent vinyl Bike to Bryant sign that now hangs outside near the bike racks is another (see previous post). A third example is our annual Bike to Bryant award, which goes to the class with the most bike trips during Bike to School Month. A little friendly competition is a good thing to generate excitement, and by having a physical award we can use from year to year, we’ve also been able to display it prominently in the front hall at school all year long.

Probably the most important part of creating a lasting school culture that supports walking and biking programs is to grow the group of parents who support and help to organize these programs.  Collaborating with a mix of parents with kids in multiple grades — including lower levels like K-3 — is essential to sustaining programs over time.

We know we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of things we can do to create a biking and walking culture. We’re always looking for more ideas of how to keep the excitement going, while also normalizing kid-powered commuting, and helping families incorporate it into their daily routine.

Now hanging prominently in the front hall at Bryant.

The Kickoff Event — Ideas from Bike to Bryant

One idea we’ve used year after year at Bryant is the “kickoff event.” Typically we hold it in late April or early May, around the beginning of Bike to School month. It really seems to help focus the Bryant community on biking to school and it serves to energize and prepare kids and their parents for a month-long commitment.

We try to make the kickoff both fun and useful for folks. We’ve included different components over the years, but usually we’ve had some combination of the following:

–Bike tuning – volunteers give bikes a once over and safety check, pump up tires, lube chains, adjust brakes, and get bikes ready for spring

–Some friendly competition, slow bike races, or this year probably timed laps around our track

–Helmet fitting and other safety preparations

–Information on bike month, advice on routes, signing up to participate in the official bike to school month tracking

–Fun prizes, a bike decorating station and supplies, and of course yummy treats

This year we’ve tried to maintain some Bike to Bryant excitement all year long, even throughout the dark and rainy months. Monthly donut rides, some dress-up and bike decorations, a holiday bike event, etc. But even so, we are looking forward to kicking off Bike to School month and really ramping up the biking again this May. Bryant’s kickoff event this year is this coming Friday, April 27.  We’ll hold it after school on the playground.

We’ll let you know how it goes! Or better yet, stop by and say hi and check it out for yourself!

UPDATE

The April 27 kickoff was a huge success! About 75 kids rode to school that morning, so there was an excited crowd of kids ready after school. More bikes showed up towards the end of the day as parents brought bikes for some of the new riders to get tuned up and practice skills.

We had six volunteer mechanics, and they were busy for nearly two hours! Lots of lubing chains, brake adjustments, air in tires, adjusting seats, safety checks, and a few larger repairs.

We had slow bike races, a raffle, bike decorations, and a couple of new events for 2012:

  • A time trial (one lap around Bryant’s paved track around its field) with 75 times being recorded… the winning time was 20 seconds! Some of our older students and alumni (now middle schoolers) volunteered to run this!
  • The “newspaper toss,” where kids got a messenger bag with several rolled up papers and circled a large basket trying to toss the paper in, quite a challenge and reminiscent of some of the adults’ glory days.

We also had an information station to orient folks to biking to school, good routes, places to get or exchange bikes, and how to sign up for Bike to School month tracking.

All in all, a great way to kick off the spring biking season, and get kids and parents prepared and excited for Bike to School Month.