Safe Routes to
Schools program will
compete with PSU students.
Earlier this month, the Portland-based Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) opened online registration for its second annual Walk + Bike to School Challenge Month. The event is a month-long contest that pits preschool and elementary school students against college and university students, to see who will bike (and walk) to school more often during the month of May.
The BTA hopes to sign-up 75 primary schools statewide, and 4 colleges or universities, by the start of the Challenge on May 1st. Last year’s inaugural challenge drew 30 elementary schools and one university (Portland State), with over 4,000 individuals participating.
While pitting gradeschoolers against college students seems a little strange at first, the organizers of last year’s Challenge found that, for the younger set, the prospect of trouncing much older students was a great motivator. Hopefully too, last year’s thoroughly-trounced college students will be motivated enough to get out of their cars this year.
The Challenge for college students comes under the “Bike to Campus Challenge” banner, and is being organized by Ian Stude, PSU’s Transportation Options Manager. The focus will be teaching those more car-inclined students how to commute to school.
Stude and the university are preparing a set of PSU-specific set of activities before and during the May challenge. Events include commuter classes and free tune-ups for PSU students, as well as a series of free “Biker Breakfasts” for participating students.
For the BTA, the Challenge brings together many of their Safe Routes to School programs and activities. BTA Advocacy Manager, Michelle Poyourow, says “It’s a way of engaging, in a very focused way, all the schools already doing the Safe Routes activities.”
“While over 30 years ago more than 60% of children walked or biked to school regularly, today that number is less than 10%,” says Poyourow. “We believe this is a key reason why obesity rates in children have more than doubled and we hope events like this help create safer, healthier communities by reducing traffic and increasing safety around schools, and by increasing the level of physical activity for children and families.”
Poyourow cites a Toronto-area study which found that almost 40% of car trips are parents taking their kids to school: so while parents’ main objection to their kids walking or biking to school is pedestrian safety, the problem can only be fixed by bringing kids to school without using automobiles.
Poyourow and the BTA see the Walk + Bike to School Challenge as a spring counterpart to the their Bike Commute Challenge. While involving younger kids and parents brings additional challenges, the rewards of focusing kids and parents on active forms of transit are potentially much bigger.
In addition to the health benefits of walking and biking, “One of the benefits of Safe Routes that a lot of people don’t yet realize is that it has an incredible impact on general traffic safety,” says Poyourow. Poyourow cites a Toronto-area study which found that almost 40% of car trips are parents taking their kids to school: so while parents’ main objection to their kids walking or biking to school is pedestrian safety, the problem can only be fixed by bringing kids to school without using automobiles. By trying to break the feedback loop, “Safe Routes can be seen as reaching those drivers through their kids, and the program has a huge benefit for the kids’ traffic safety as a whole.”
Next month’s Challenge will hopefully sustain that safety benefit long enough for parents to take notice. “Of course, the more people do it, the safer people feel.”
If you want to see if your school is signed up for the Walk + Bike Challenge, or if you are a school administrator or Safe Routes to School Coordinator and want to register your school, visit WalknBike.org.
The event kicks off May 1, runs the entire month, and then culminates June 12 with a Walk + Bike to Baseball celebration event at PGE Park. Event participants and winners will be recognized on field, and the overall winner will throw out the first pitch of the Beavers baseball game.