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 http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/node/add/event.

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!

 

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

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!

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!