Fall 2013 Walk and Bike to School Info Session

Parents, teachers, staff, and students across Seattle are beginning another school year. As the instruction and extracurricular activities begin, parents are also planning the school commutes that take tens of thousands of Seattle kids from where they live to where they learn. So It’s a great time to get the creative juices flowing and share ideas for helping more of our kids choose active and sustainable transportation for this coming year.

Come meet with other walk and bike to school organizers and advocates next Tuesday and get things rolling for another school year.

Fall 2013 Info Sharing Session

Tuesday, September 10, from 6:00 to 7:45 p.m.
Ballard branch, Seattle Public Library, 5614 22nd Ave NW

Are you a Safe Routes to School organizer at your local school? A parent interested in starting a program? A community member interested in what the buzz is about and maybe wanting to lend a hand? This meeting is for you.

Next Tuesday evening will be an opportunity to share updates, ideas, and plans for ramping up walking and biking this year.

The agenda will include:

  • “Ballard Bikes” multi-school walk and bike to school plans
  • Creative ideas from individual schools to get more kids walking and biking (share yours with others!)
  • A report from Feet First on October Walk to School Month
  • A report from SDOT on upcoming Safe Routes to School mini-grant opportunities
  • The latest on the School Road Safety Task Force

This event is open to everyone in the community who is interested in increasing walking and biking to Seattle schools. Hope you can join us and please spread the word.

Their are good options for getting to the Ballard library by bike, on foot, or on public transportation. There is bike parking out front and the library is near several bus routes. If you drive, you can park for free in the garage underneath.

Seattle has seen continuing growth in the number of schools promoting active transportation, and in the number of families choosing to commute to school under their own power. Let’s work together to maintain the momentum in 2013-14!

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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

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!

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.

Eckstein Bikes!

Eckstein Bikes! formed earlier this school year to encourage and support Eckstein students to bike to school. Several parents began by “randomly” showing up at school with treats to reward bikers on the occasional Friday. This created a little word of mouth that  good things happen to those who bike.

We also successfully applied for a Safe Routes to School grant, with some support from within the school from a fantastic science teacher who had run a Safe Routes grant a couple of years ago. Eckstein Bikes! met with the school administration and PTSA early on, and found them supportive as well.

With some energy and enthusiasm as well as experience from our efforts at other schools, we were up and running in very little time!

An early focus of the program has included several “Biker Donut Days” — morning meet-ups at the Eckstein bike cage parking area to reward kids who biked to school that day. Despite being held throughout the late fall and winter, each donut day has seen more kids on bikes as word has gotten around and we have increased our advertising to the school community. Last Donut Day we had 28 kids on bikes — a new record. Given the size of Eckstein though, there is plenty of room to grow.

Early efforts have also included:

  • Planning for renovations to the bike cage to improve its security and make it a more welcoming space for prospective and current bike commuters.
  • Coordination with the school and with SDOT on safety improvements around the school for our kid bikers as well as Eckstein’s kids who walk to school.
  • Getting the word out via Facebook, Twitter, and good old-fashioned signs and school notices.

The Donut Days have also provided a great opportunity to dole out some bike advice and some needed gear to the kid commuters. So far we’ve handed out over a dozen blinkie lights — front and rear — as well as one helmet. The Bike Wizard has also swung by a couple of times and delivered seat bags to kids that needed them.

Bike to School Month this May will be our next big push, but over the coming year, we also hope to focus on more incentives, safety and bike repair education for our bike commuters, possible group rides, and some other ideas as well. We also would love to recruit some parents to run a parallel walk to school program.

The Eckstein Bikes! team looks forward to continuing to grow safe and sustainable kid commuting at Eckstein.