Guest article: Consider a practice bike ride to school on calmer streets

A family leaves for a ride in Sellwood.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The coronavirus has changed our lives forever. From here on out, we will think of life before coronavirus, and after. While these are very scary times, we are seeing some positive things appear. With calmer streets and less people driving, there’s been a surge of children and families riding bikes together.

If you’re one of them, it might be a good time to do a practice run to school (if you don’t bike there already).

As a Physical Education teacher at a K-8 school in north Portland I see daily the impacts physical activity — or lack thereof — has on my students’ well-being. In PE class we work to give children the skills they need to be a physically literate person. We are building students’ competence and confidence so they can live a healthy life.

I tell my students that doctors have studied why being physically active is important for children. The closer children are to the 60 minutes of physical activity recommended by the Center for Disease Control, I tell them, the better health outcomes they’ll see. Children who are more active do better in school, get in less trouble, have better relationships with friends, get sick less and live longer lives.

But not every child has PE and recess everyday, or participates in extracurricular sports. So how do you get that 60 minutes of daily physical activity? One of the best ways to help your child get enough physical activity is if they walk or bike to school.


I often ask my elementary and middle schools who are dropped off and picked up by their parents why their parents drive them. They tell me how their parents don’t think it’s safe any other way. I ask my older students: What will you do in high school? Will your parents drive you to work? Or to hang out with your friends or to go on a date? What if they can’t drive you? What will you do then?

No matter what age your child is there are ways to scaffold this skill for them and yourself. Working to help build our childrens’ independence is a skill they will need to learn sooner or later. With our streets much quieter and calmer these days, now is a great time to practice with your child how to walk or bike to school. Being able to practice this skill now will help you and your child build confidence to do this when social distancing ends and school starts.

If you or your children like this new freedom of safe and open streets please share with your city and state leaders. Just because the coronavirus will eventually be tamed and life will go back to normal, our streets don’t have to go back to how they were before.

I would love to hear what parents — and more importantly what students — think about this. Do you think you will bike with them more when you go back to school? Has anyone done a practice bike ride to school yet? Please feel free to reach out if you need help getting started.

— Sam Balto, and @CoachBalto on Twitter
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Sam Balto (Contributor)

Sam Balto (Contributor)

Sam Balto is a northeast Portland resident who teaches physical education at a local public school. In 2019 he was honored with a Weston Award from Oregon Walks for his school-based traffic safety advocacy. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachBalto.

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Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Thanks for sharing this with us Sam. I’d also add that the same suggestion could apply to people who want to practice their route to work. For folks who don’t bike to work yet, give it a shot in much less stressful conditions. If you already bike to work but are curious about route changes, give them a try.

4 years ago

Changed forever? Sorry if I sound cynical, but the moment the “all clear” is given, cars and trucks will again flood the streets. America hasn’t spent the last 100 years building all of that motor-vehicle infrastructure just to let it sit there. Plus the economy, the President, the Federal Reserve, and every other potent force in the US of A will demand a return to the pre-covid status quo.

Sorry, but I don’t think anything will change. Covid-19 will be a blip on the radar screen of history.

4 years ago
Reply to  Fred

Aw, cmon. Sure, change is hard, but it’s definitely harder when people who are trying to make change are fighting not only the status quo but also cynics who are covertly supporting the status quo by asserting that change isn’t possible.

I mean, I fully support skepticism, but I think on the whole it’s probably more productive to be publicly supportive of changes you’d like to see and keep your cynicism about them to yourself, rather than making cynicism and it’s-not-possibleism the dominant discourse.

4 years ago
Reply to  stasia:)

I don’t normally respond to my critics, but in this case I’ll make an exception to correct a misperception. 🙂

I never said that a car-free world is impossible; in fact I think it’s completely possible and I would love to see it happen, and if I thought it could happen tomorrow or next week or next year, I would move any mountain to make it happen. What I said is that the dominant forces in our society – the ones with the power (not you or me) – still hold sway. This covid crisis is showing us two things:

1) The possibility of doing something different, transportation-wise;
2) The difficulty of doing anything that disrupts our current paradigm of economic growth, which any low-carbon strategy would inevitably threaten.

Look at what’s happening to the stock market, unemployment rate, etc. Would the DFs (dominant forces), let alone the millions of unemployed, say “Go ahead and have your cycling nirvana – we’ll just starve!” Of course not. But that’s the situation we face. To acknowledge the enormity of the challenge is not the same as giving in to cynicism or it’s-not-possible-ism. Thank you.

Jan Verrinder
Jan Verrinder
4 years ago

Sam, I was thinking along the same lines. Great time for riders who want to ride downtown and other places to try some routes. Sunday was particularly open and easy. Not saying the streets will remain calm, but for those who simply want to practice a good route, get used to some of the infrastructure that makes it good, and see the sights without all the traffic, now is a very good time.

8 months ago

Thank you for the information