Schools can have a positive impact on the environment, build community, and support physical fitness by encouraging students and staff to communally bike to school.
Whether you call it a bike bus, bike train, or bicibús, your school community is sure to enjoy this transportation shift where families, kids, and school staff can bike to school together! Kids need to be able to make it to school in a safe and timely manner to achieve their highest academic and social potential. Having their friends along for the ride makes it all the more motivating and fun.
Community and social connection is the main reason that the bike bus runs. It builds student independence and reclaims parents’ time in the morning. It’s climate action that’s fun and builds focus for the day. Which of these reasons connect most with your personal interests or school mission?
At PS 372 in Brooklyn, the bike bus routes get staff, kids, and families involved. We are a special education inclusion school, so we strive to be welcoming to all forms of walk and roll—scooters and wheelchairs, Rollerblades and skateboards, tandem bikes and trikes, walkers, and cargo bikes are all invited to join.
For some students who need accommodation, we shorten the distance when necessary, make special visuals for parents to use beforehand, and provide clear instructions for the students at the meetup spots.
Families from our school who are avid bike commuters take leadership roles by volunteering to run the routes to coordinate the group. Students can take on leadership roles too. At our school, students create flyers, promotional videos, and signs to hand out for hanging on bikes.
Our school leadership and parent-teacher association (PTA) ride along with us, spread the word encouraging families to join, welcome the groups when we arrive, and provide space for bikes to be stored at school.
Before the bike bus is going to run, map out your route. On the day of the ride, everyone meets at the designated point with their wheels ready. We don’t assume that kids and families know how to behave when biking on the streets, so we give clear directions for what to expect and how to know when to start and stop.
We always remind students not to race each other unless there is a stretch of street where it’s safe and acceptable to go ahead, such as a greenway or separate bike path like the one that physical education teacher and student transportation advocate Sam Balto rides in Portland, Oregon.
We treat the bike bus as we would treat any lesson plan of a new skill or classroom behavior expectation in the first six weeks of school. Here is our school’s document with a chart of safety if-then scenarios. You can use your bell power to put together a chorus of bell rings or even come up with a fun call-and-response or chant—making it fun, building visibility to drivers, and creating your official bond of bike peeps.
Our first bike bus was on Bike to School Day 2022 (the next Bike to School Day is May 3, 2023), but other schools like the SF Bike Bus began in December 2021. Any significant or regular school day will be a blast. Give yourself a week or two in advance to consider logistics.
When we first started planning, I imagined 10 families would sign up. Then, the night before, there were 69 families on the list! Due to this, I learned that it’s best to expect last-minute sign-ups or same-day joining because it can be burdensome to have to sign up far in advance.
On the day of the ride, leave early enough that you’ll have five to 10 minutes for parking, but not so early that it’s a burden to wait around. We try to consider the timing of when families and students meet, depart, ride, arrive, and get to class. Bike buses should be well planned enough that they can be easily repeated and systematized—they have become part of the fabric of our school in just a few months’ time.
Bike buses are easiest to implement if there is a direct route to the school that has minimal car presence. Expect that the route won’t be perfect the first time or even the fourth time—if the infrastructure were built for kids on bikes, then the bike bus wouldn’t be necessary, because kids would already be empowered by the environment to bike on their own to school. If you find that your school run is not conducive to a bike bus, then you may want to consider a walking school bus.
The Safest Route
Try to choose routes that have designated bike paths. Not all communities have them, so choose a route that you’d feel comfortable riding again and again.
We tested out a few options ahead of time to see what felt convenient and safe, and you’ll want to do the same in your community. If you can, choose a route where kids can bike next to their friends. In the end, we settled on five to six routes based on where the majority of students from our school come from in the city. In Hood River, Oregon, Megan Ramey, the area’s safe routes coordinator, has two bike train routes and a walking school bus that lead to their school.
Since having our first Bike to School Day, the bike bus has become a monthly staple. Several of our students have also stepped into advocacy roles in the community.
In the wise words of a PS 372 fourth grader who spoke at an advocacy event in June: “Biking is a great way to get to school or work because you don’t have to wait two hours in traffic, and walking, while nice, takes a little longer. … Biking is also good for all age people, and it is fun to see the different bikes and people on my commute to school!”
If you ask me, bikes are a kid’s ticket to freedom. Bike buses facilitate the safety, community, and joy they seek.