(Photos © J. Maus)
It’s been nearly one year since I happened upon my first “bike train.” Back then, I was amazed at how such a simple idea — parents and kids meeting up at designated spots to ride to school together — could be so effective.
This morning I joined the inaugural ride of my daughters’ school’s bike train and got to see first-hand why the concept is taking off like wildfire throughout Portland.
Since last fall, Trillium Charter School is the eleventh school to officially register their bike train on BikeTrainPDX.org. Bike trains are also running at; Beach, Sabin, Abernethy, Alameda, Portland Village School, Richmond, Creative Science, Harvey Scott, Emerson, and Beverly Cleary
Kiel Johnson, fresh off his Alice B. Toeclips award, is the young, former City of Portland intern who runs BikeTrainPDX and single-handedly sparked a renaissance in bike trains (the concept has been in use for years).
Since hosting a conference last August, Johnson estimates the total number of bike train riders is nearing 2,000. He has also garnered national media attention (even a spot on NBC) and has consulted with cities across the country about how to set up bike trains of their own.
With a $5,000 grant from ODOT, Johnson gives each participating school $30 a month to spend on whatever bike-related thing they choose. “The idea,” Johnson says, “is to empower the bike train leaders to feel more involved and participate more in making decisions that work for their school.”
That’s the magic behind what Johnson has done. He simply had an idea and then let others grab onto it and make it their own. He has only a meager budget, relying on emails and grassroots organizing.
Johnson was waiting in the lot in front of Trillium Charter School this morning (a former car parking lot that we closed last year to create more bike parking and a school plaza) as parents and kids on bikes streamed in from all directions. Johnson stood behind a small table that had piles of free pencils, raffle tickets, and other goodies on it. He smiled and chatted with kids, administrators and parents.
“The most exciting thing for me has been watching parents stepping up and getting involved with making biking to school a normal activity,” Johnson emailed me a few weeks ago, “There is a lot of energy and passion around biking to school and it is great to see people being able to channel it and feel ownership through bike trains.”
That energy is definitely happening at Trillium. Parent volunteers are now stepping up to publicize the bike trains, ask about Safe Routes to School grants, and inquire about nearby traffic safety improvements. It’s amazing what one simple thing can set into motion.
At this rate, Johnson is sure to run out of that grant money soon; but something tells me he won’t have any trouble finding more.
If you want to start a bike train, just drop Johnson an email at biketrainpdx[at]gmail[dot]com.