Family Biking: Time to plan for Walk and Roll to School Day

Our May 2017 Woodstock Walk and Roll to School crew, after the walkers had already set off for school.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

If you’re like me, you love to celebrate active transportation (a.k.a. walking, bicycling, using a wheelchair, skateboarding, scootering, etc). On October 10th we’ve got the perfect opportunity to party because it’s Walk and Roll to School Day! With about two weeks until event, there’s still time to organize something at your school.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Thanks to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, every public school has access to cool free prizes, which you can sign up for after you register your school with The Street Trust (a nonprofit that contracts with PBOT on school-based cycling education).

Don’t despair if you’re not in Portland because the National Walk & Bike to School website has tons of great resources, like their How to Plan page which offers a great primer on tips for first-timers, how to plan an event in seven days, how to make your event accessible to everyone, and more.

We’re planning on a small and simple start at Woodstock Elementary this year. My plan is to meet at a nearby park a half-hour before the bell rings. We’ll have a small party with music, free prizes and snacks (we got a bit of funding from the PTA this year!). I plan to decorate our 0.2-mile walk along the park path with sidewalk chalk and hopefully snap a bunch of festive photos. Meanwhile, my co-volunteer (thanks, Carolyn!) will lead the bike contingent in a separate parade to the bike racks.


We have grand plans going forward, like starting walking school buses and bike trains, having regular Bike Fairy visits, running more weekend bike rodeos and bike repair extravaganzas (a school parent is a bike mechanic), adding more bike racks, and working to better engage our Mandarin Immersion population. But it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and even a small celebration on the 10th is going to be big fun!

If you’ve noticed there are two similar events — the May Walk + Bike Challenge Month/Bike to School Day and this October Walk + Bike to School Day — you’re not alone in your confusion. Here’s the history: the first Walk to School Day was held in 1997 and continues as International Walk to School Day each October; the first Bike to School Day was held in May 2012 and continues as National Bike to School Day each May. But they’re both “walk plus roll” nowadays to encompass all active transportation. Personally, I felt a little bad about not accommodating our walking kids last May on Bike (and Walk) to School Day so I wanted to make our event this October very walker-friendly.

And you need not have school-aged kids to feel like part of the fun. Back when my kids were toddlers, I had fun sharing #WalktoSchoolDay pictures on social media as we biked to classes.

Have you participated in a walk and/or roll to school event before, or are you in the midst of planning one? Please share your tips or questions in the comments! Thanks for reading.

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

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B. Carfree
B. Carfree
5 years ago

This was just the kick in the hiney I needed. Exactly one child travels by bike at my granddaughter’s elementary school (yes, it’s her). However, I was told there is another family that would like to ride but haven’t quite got it figured out. The location is challenging, to say the least (traffic engineering failures). However, it’s doable. I’m hopeful that if I get the proper announcement in we can add to our fun by sharing the road/bike path with another family.

Now, since I’m in a depressed post-ACS mood, I’ll share some sad details. My granddaughter’s school is co-located with another elementary school and is adjacent to a high school. We actually ride through both other schools going to/from her school. 1500 students and there are only 35 bikes at the high school and none at the elementary schools. I nearly weep every time we ride past the near-empty bike racks at the high school and am offended that neither elementary school even has a bike rack. Not to worry, though, they have many acres of parking lots for cars. 🙁

5 years ago
Reply to  B. Carfree

B. Carfree, if you’re up for getting a Walk + Bike celebration going on at your granddaughter’s school, I’d be happy to share my experiences (and planning documents!) with you (and anyone else). If you have the support of the school’s principal, it doesn’t (have to) take a whole lot of time or other resources to get one going. We had our first one at Woodlawn School 4 years ago. I was afraid no one would show up, but they did! Now they’re events that the community looks forward to, twice a year, and they’re a springboard for growing and celebrating active transportation. 🙂
Here’s what Woodlawn’s most recent celebration looked like: (If you look through past posts there, there’s another one about a previous event.)

Like Madi said, it’s totally okay to start out small! No first step is too small.

If your granddaughter’s school is in need of bike racks, I’d recommend starting by seeing whether the school’s principal is open to the idea of bike racks being installed. Then, send in a request here: Takes a while, but we were successful at Woodlawn. (Actually it’s about time to request more, as the number of kids/families biking to school has quadrupled over the past 4 years!)

You can connect with me, and other people who support walking and biking to school at the Walk+Roll public group on Facebook. It’s a group that The Street Trust started.

Moto Metal
Moto Metal
5 years ago

Nice photo of these children into biking when going to school. The local government should make more effort and policy for their safety on the road.