The Alameda bike bus has more than doubled in size in just four months

Sam Balto, a PE teacher at Alameda Elementary School, captains this morning’s bike bus down NE Klickitat Street. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland – Full Gallery Below)

“Every school should have this.”

– Danny Cage, Oregon Environmental Justice Council

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.

(Left to right: Danny Cage, Sam Balto, Bryonie McMahon)

“The bike bus is climate action. If you were to do this every day and fund it properly, you’d see really incredible environmental benefits.”

– Sam Balto, Alameda Elementary School bike bus leader

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.”

https://www.tiktok.com/@bikeportland/video/7145933181982690603?is_from_webapp=1&sender_device=pc&web_id=7114309334502295083
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

28 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Toby
Toby
5 days ago

Is there any guidance on forming a bike bus for our school? Recommendations or working through PPS or the school itself, route setting, rider education, etc. would be appreciated. This would make the ride into our school a much more social activity. Thanks for leading the way!

Sam Balto (Contributor)
Sam Balto
5 days ago
Reply to  Toby

Hi,

PBOT SRTS provides support I would reach out to them. https://www.portland.gov/transportation/safe-routes-school

I also have a podcast episode on ActiveTowns with a ton of great tips.
https://www.activetowns.org/2022/07/06/balto-bike-bus/

Steve
Steve
6 days ago

Fantastic! What is the security for all those bikes at the school?

AnnieBRides
AnnieBRides
6 days ago

Love this so much! I rode my bike to school everyday from 3rd-8th grade. (I was fortunate to do this in SoCal’s bike-friendly climate!) So wanted my kids to be able to do this too, but in SW Portland with hills and fewer bike lanes on important arterials, it just wasn’t an option. Cheers to Mr. Balto and his volunteers for making this happen!

Matt S.
Matt S.
6 days ago

This is an overwhelmingly positive story. I do wonder how the socioeconomics play into the success of this bike bus. Safe streets, nice houses to pass by, no trash on the street, no shootings at night, financially stable parents, etc..

Chris I
Chris I
6 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

Definitely a factor, as I see at our school (Laurelhurst). The parents have more free time to coordinate these things, and the routes are safer.

Brian
Brian
4 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

I would argue that with many parents joining in and seeing the local conditions, there would be a greater push to clean up the streets

Matt S.
Matt S.
4 days ago
Reply to  Brian

It will take some real grassroots organizing to get parents onboard out here in E Portland.

Fred
Fred
6 days ago

Every weekday morning in my SW Portland neighborhood, every single house with kids sees a parent fire up the old ICE (internal combustion engine) and drive the kids to school. I often think about how much carbon and pollution all of these well-meaning parents are spewing into the air, twice a day (drop-off and pick-up).

Every school should have a bike bus – supported by the school, police, parents, everyone. Actually many bike buses. It should become the normal way of getting to and from school – think of how many GGEs would be avoided.

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
5 days ago
Reply to  Fred

this is a dangerous joke on innocent kids. its too dangerous for a child to ride a bicycle in such a terrible place. whats wrong with walking ?

Matt S.
Matt S.
4 days ago
Reply to  Fred

That will be us. The first daycare/preschool with infant and toddler spots (that we are willing to send our kids to) at the same time is six miles from our house. Our daycare crisis prevents us from alternative eco friendly options.

I have a Burley trailer, I’d love to ride that with them for drop off, but the ride is too far.

nic.cota
nic.cota
6 days ago

I keep hearing and seeing the ‘if this solution doesn’t work for everyone, then its not a solution’ response to these bike bus videos and I just can’t believe how that logic can dismiss so many great ideas for some (albeit not all) folks.

I know there’s a lot of places this doesn’t work as easily. But that being said, I think there’s a huge swath of schools in Oregon (and the rest of the US) that have optimal conditions for this that could really benefit from a bike/walk bus program.

Way to go Sam Balto for taking the leadership to take this to the policy level, too! I’m excited to see this conversation and movement grow:)

Brian W
Brian W
5 days ago
Reply to  nic.cota

Yes, the “if your proposed solution doesn’t work for everyone, all the time, as soon as it’s implemented, then we must not do it” attitude is very frustrating. The conservatives who hold that attitude are deathly afraid of change, as if their very survival depends upon maintaining the status quo.

DW
DW
6 days ago

This is so awesome. Way to go Coach Balto! I work in an elementary school and I know how important movement and fresh air are for kids. You can really see a difference in the kids who walk or bike to school versus the ones who are cooped up in their parents’ cars. I’m sure this is a really transformative and normalizing experience that signals to these kids that bikes are a fun, convenient, and useful form of transportation. If I can find the motivation, I would love to start a bike bus for my school.

Jared Stone
Jared Stone
5 days ago

I’m a little alarmed to see helmets on nearly all of the children. Helmet use should be up to the child, period, not the school. Also helmet laws have been proven to be deeply problematic.

Brian
Brian
4 days ago
Reply to  Jared Stone

I was an ER/trauma nurse for 13 years. I’m very very happy to see kids wearing bike helmets

Chris I
Chris I
4 days ago
Reply to  Jared Stone

Helmets on little kids is a weird hill to die on, but okay.

Sigma
Sigma
4 days ago
Reply to  Jared Stone

Is that a joke? What does “deeply problematic” mean?

qqq
qqq
3 days ago
Reply to  Jared Stone

I’m on the Willamette Greenway Trail twice a day, Adult helmet use is virtually 100%. even though it’s not required.

If almost 100% of adults are choosing to wear helmets on a car-free path in a park, it’s not likely many parents (I’m ignoring your view that helmet wearing should be up to the children) would allow their kids to bike on streets without helmets, even if it were voluntary. That would make helmet laws deeply irrelevant.

Mark Bentz
Mark Bentz
2 days ago
Reply to  Jared Stone

Helmets are cool and protect your brain. Everyone is wearing them. Join us if you love your brain.

janowa
janowa
5 days ago

Happy, happy, happy! Thank you Coach B!

Rain Waters
Rain Waters
5 days ago

soon as the toy mtbs are landfilled, time for a real coal fired ebike, yay !

Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
3 days ago
Reply to  Rain Waters

Most e-bikes will be in the landfill in a few years too once the novelty wears off, batteries die and proprietary parts become unavailable. You know how most bike shops refuse to work on $119 Wal-Mart bikes because of the terrible quality parts / design? Many e-bikes sold today will have a similar fate, doomed by cost-cutting and planned obsolescence.

The best case scenario is that you’ll be able to buy one of these machines for cheap on Craigslist soon and use it as a beach cruiser / boat anchor.

Of course nobody wants to acknowledge how quickly the bike advocates have abandoned “human powered transportation” ideals for the allure of convenience and giant lithium mines in Eastern Oregon. Out of sight, out of mind, 30mph on MUPs… the future is here and it’s ever so sustainable?

John
John
21 hours ago
Reply to  Tomas Paella

The batteries are trivially replaced when they need to, that is after tens of thousands of miles traveled (I mean, they’re frequently removed for charging), the parts are very interchangeable, and the rest of it is just a normal bike. There’s no reason *most* e-bikes can’t be ridden for 50 years or more.

David Raboin
4 days ago

There’s a great video of this bike bus on Twitter. Scrub forward to the middle of the clip where the music is blasting and the kids are catching air off the speed bumps. https://twitter.com/CoachBalto/status/1572616500808413185

Tomas Paella
Tomas Paella
3 days ago
Reply to  David Raboin

As a seasoned bike commuter and tourer on shared roads, the last thing I’d want on a ride is “blasting” music. You often hear hazards (cars, skaters, other cyclists) before your paths cross, and that makes all the difference in the world. (On a similar note I think it’s wildly unsafe to ride with headphones of any type.)

I get that they’e trying to make a pasttime that many people find tedious more appealing to today’s smartphone-addicted children, but I think this is a step in the wrong direction. My children are taught to be present, to connect with their surroundings and adapt to challenges, some of which require a temporary absence of pop culture’s braying howl.

Brian
Brian
4 days ago

Won’t someone think of the children’s bus drivers?!?