We were impressed by how many kids and parents showed up to the Alameda Elementary School bike bus when we covered it back in April. But now it’s more than twice that size!
This morning Taylor and I rode with Alameda Physical Education Teacher Bike Bus Leader Sam Balto and we’re happy to report that it’s alive and well. Balto estimates about 170 people now take part each week. He’s even heard about some kids who’ve dusted off bikes and practiced their pedaling just so they could join the bike bus. “That to me is the best compliment to this whole thing,” he said. “This thing has really taken off. And it just kind of goes to show the joy that bikes create and the importance of being consistent, doing this every week, and promoting it.”
We met near Wilshire Park on NE 37th. The group was big at the start, but it grew bigger as we absorbed more kids and their parents with each block we passed. Two huge groups came together at NE Alameda and Klickitat and by the time we made the final descent west to the school on NE 27th, the bike bus took over several blocks with curb-to-curb kids.
Riding with the group this week were two high school seniors who I think we’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming years. Danny Cage, fresh off his appointment to the board of the Oregon Environmental Justice Council; and Portland Public Schools Board Student Rep Byronie McMahon both loved what they saw. “This is such an awesome way to get to school. I know there are many other schools that can use something like this,” McMahon said. “I’m going to fight at the state to make this happen.”
“Every school should have this,” Cage added.
And that’s what will happen if Balto’s plan comes together. He’s already working on a bill this coming legislative session that would significantly raise the bike bus profile. “Right now, school districts can only spend student transportation funds on school buses, and we want to give school districts the choice and give them more options to be able to fund things like walking school buses or bike buses,” Balto said.
McMahon said with the legislative session coming up, she’s starting to think about what priorities PPS should focus on. “Let’s make it happen!” she said with enthusiasm. “The joy in the kids is so great to see. Sometimes as a high schooler you kind of lose sight of that. That’s why this is so awesome.”
It’s also awesome for the environment. Balto surveyed parents of bike bus riders at the beginning of summer and asked how they got to school on non-bike bus days (it only happens once per week currently). Over 35% of the parents surveyed said they normally drive their kid to school. “That really goes to show that the bike bus is climate action and that we’re removing car trips from the road. If you were to extrapolate that out and do this every day and fund it properly, you’d see really incredible environmental benefits.”
Balto’s viral TikTok video is inspiring people around the world to start bike buses at their own schools. He says if you want to get started, just find another family to ride with, make a map with meeting times, then share it with everyone you can. “Be inclusive and be consistent,” Balto added. “People are going to come. Bikes sell themselves.”