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Epic 150-Kid ‘Bike Bus’ Shows America a Better Way to Get to School

Photo: Sam Balto

A viral video of hundreds of students biking to school together shows how to give more kids the opportunity to get to school on their own two wheels.

On Thursday, friend of Streetsblog and Portland public school teacher Sam Balto wowed Twitter with his video of a "Bike Bus" event he'd organized, which brought together roughly 150 young riders to keep each other safe on their shared journey to Alameda Elementary in the Oregon metropolis. Though they're growing increasingly popular in countries around the world, Bike Buses are still relatively rare in the U.S., and usually involve only a small group of riders, rather than enough youngsters to fill a modest commercial jet.

Balto says this adorable junior version of a Critical Mass ride attracted a stunning 27 percent of the school's student population, and that other kids may have ridden to school separately, too. By contrast, only 10 percent of all U.S. kids either biked or walked to school in 2009, the last year for which data is available — and given the increasingly child-hostile megacars that have saturated U.S. roads since then, the number is likely even lower now.

Balto credits much of the impressive turnout for his Bike Bus to the magic of biking itself, though his and his colleagues' dedicated work deserves a hat tip, too. The event happens every Wednesday, and school staff regularly follows up with families to make sure the event is inclusive and they know how to participate.

"I think students and families are showing up in such numbers because biking with friends is fun and enjoy the freedom bikes provide," he said. "Parents love seeing their children being a part of the school community."

Balto emphasizes Bike Buses don't need to be large, and that even just a few families can easily start a kiddie convoy of their own by creating a simple route and a list of meet-up times on a shared email chain or Google Drive. Though for those efforts to really take off, policymakers should get involve, too — particularly when it comes to addressing the structural reasons why more kids don't already bike or walk to school, like dangerous roads and vehicles.

"City and state leaders they should create and fund Active Transportation to School programs that pay parents, school staff and members of the community to provide services like Bike Buses and Walking School Buses," Balto adds. "The health, environmental, social and academic benefits of active transportation for children are well researched, and the time is now to invest in helping our getting to school in an active and fun way."

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