Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 27th, 2011 at 1:21 pm
Portland’s grassroots movement to get kids and families to hop aboard school “bike trains” continues to grow. Last night 15 schools were represented at the second annual Bike Train Meet Up. That’s quite a jump from the four schools that were a part of a similar gathering last year.
The growth in bike trains is music to the ears of Kiel Johnson, the 24-year-old who has spearheaded the movement in Portland. Last night Johnson told the crowd of over 30 moms, dads, kids, teachers and other interested folks, that he was inspired to get more kids riding to school after seeing a video of a typical ride to a school in the Netherlands.
“If they can get 90% of kids biking to school,” said Johnson as the video played, “there’s no reason Portland can’t.”
As hope that change can happen here, Johnson shared the example of Beach Elementary School in North Portland’s Overlook neighborhood. Just three short years ago, that school had an official “no biking” policy, he explained during a short presentation. However, with a new principal, a few very dedicated parents and a solid assist from PBOT to make key roadway engineering changes, now Beach has one of the best Safe Routes programs in the city.
A bike train at Beach Elementary this past spring had 150 participants.
Johnson’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the City of Portland. Last night he announced he’s been officially hired by PBOT to organize more bike trains.
What if a family wants to join their school’s bike train but they don’t even have bikes? Johnson has a new Family Bike Rental program to overcome that barrier.
Thanks to a partnership with Sellwood Cycle Repair, for just $50 a month, any family can rent a full package of bikes and gear. At the end of the month, that fee can be put toward the purchase of a new or used bike from Sellwood Cycle Repair. The shop has also agreed to store and maintain the bikes as a gesture of support for the bike train program.
Last night was a great opportunity to network with other bike train conductors and get new ideas about how to encourage more biking to school. There were large wall maps of recommended routes for each school that attended and the first 10 schools that RSVP’d were given a free floor pump and u-lock.
What’s next for bike trains in Portland?
There’s some discussion among veteran bike train leaders and PBOT Safe Routes to School staffer Clay Veka to coordinate routes into neighborhood lines instead of being school specific. In other words, there’d be a North Portland Bike Train with an established route and times. Anyone would be able to hop on or off the train at any point along the route.
In the end, it’s all about getting more people to bike to school — and feel safe — while doing it.
“People want to be able to bike to school,” says Johnson, “it is just a matter of connecting the dots to make it an option.”