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Advocates Unite to Start a Worldwide Bike Bus Revolution

Bike buses have taken the internet by storm. Now, a new organization is working to launch them all over the world.

Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

A new organization is working to make "bike buses" a fixture of the global transportation landscape by giving communities the tools to start their own — and fighting for policies to support even the littlest group-riders.

A coalition of advocates recently soft-launched the website for Bike Bus World, which co-founder and Portland phys ed teacher Sam Balto describes as a global effort to "be the spark that lights the flame for a national resurgence in biking that brings communities together," with a unique focus on pedal pods, cycle trains, bicíbuses, and other community solutions to get students to school without ever getting inside a vehicle.

Though they've been running quietly for decades in communities around the world — a worldwide Bike Bus Summit was even held in Barcelona earlier this year — bike buses have recently risen to global prominence. (Some have even launched for adults.) That's in no small part thanks to social media superstars like Balto himself, who have reached millions of viewers and more than a few national media outlets with the videos of joyful children and their chaperones pedaling in an organized throng through neighborhoods streets, usually to bumping music.

@coachbalto

Replying to @Pam Obe Ressler taking song requests!!! This song was a blast to ride to. @AC/DC #BikeBus

♬ Thunderstruck - AC/DC

Much like traditional transit, the bike bus runs on a fixed route and schedule, and they give children a critical opportunity to connect with their classmates, rather than huddling alone in the back seats of their parents' cars — plus the added bonuses of exercise, fresh air, and safer, greener communities for everyone.

"School buses run on gas; bike buses run on joy," the group writes.

If you haven't seen that joy first-hand, check out this heart-warming mini documentary by Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetflims about a rolling bike bus seminar Balto co-led at the national Vision Zero Cities Conference.

While the Bike Bus World website is still pretty bare-bones, the advocates behind it are already making waves in the real world.

Cycle train conductors were involved in the fight to keep J.F.K. Promenade in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park car-free after it was designated a bike bus route for area families. And this summer, they successfully organized for the passage of Oregon's landmark "Bike Bus Bill," which allows schools to request state school transportation funds to pay adults to lead bike buses (and their cousin, the walking school bus, not to mention the humble crossing guard), rather than relying exclusively on unpaid parent and staff volunteers.

"I say often, volunteerism is inequitable and unsustainable," adds Balto. "Hopefully Bike Bus World resonates with people who care about this, and are able to support this movement financially so we are able to do all the things we to do."

Over time, Balto envisions BikeBusWorld as a clearing house and advocacy hub that will give people around the world the tools to start, fund, and grow their active school transportation efforts, as well as lobby their leaders for good infrastructure and policy that keeps students safe on the road.

"When it comes to active transportation, I've never seen another idea take off like this," Balto adds. "Everyone loves it, and that means it really has the potential to change the world."

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