A few weeks back, on a cold, blustery May morning, we began our commitment of one week of biking from our home to my daughter’s school, Hale Elementary in Minneapolis. Around the world, loads of other schools were joining in on the fun too as part of International Walk and Bike to School Week.
Our city is a bike-friendly city. Minneapolis ranked second in a recent study that took into account major American cities with 4.3% or 8,200 of us biking to work. These numbers are much higher elsewhere in the world. Try YouTubing winter bike riding in Amsterdam or Utrecht, Netherlands, for example, and you’ll see these European bikers are not phased by the weather as they pedal through the slush and move smoothly with traffic. Now I know there are Minnesotans who bike in the winter with very little to stop them (4,000 of those 8,200 mentioned earlier continue riding in the winter), but they are in the minority against vehicles. I notice the bikers in Amsterdam seem to outnumber vehicles, attributing a bit to their more leisurely posture, go-to-market bike vs the racing bike and that their biking attire might also be exactly what they wear to work for the day. The week would be a test of how bike-friendly our city is and how biking to school (potentially work) fits within our lifestyle.
Day one: As we set out on that first Monday morning, my 7-yr-old, Ava, wandered in and out of the sidewalks and streets at this leisurely pace that I envied. I will try to stop coaxing her to go faster, I promised. The sun was present with fleeting snow flurries as we neared her school. We were one of the first to arrive by bike and we had our first choice of docking station at the bike rack. Today was a practice ride for Wednesday – Friday of week, when I had volunteered to be sticker mom from 7:00 – 7:30 on the corner.
Day two: We awoke to sunshine (still very brisk though). Ava loves that we’re not rushing to catch the bus. We can leave whenever we’re ready, within reason. The commute is 7 long and 6 short city blocks. It takes about 14 minutes, but who’s counting. The bikes line the racks and the fences surrounding the schools. I know someone on our Hale Wellness Committee is in charge of coffee from Sister Sledge, but I don’t have time to indulge. I need to bike it back home to get showered and changed (this is not Amsterdam!) and prod my 5-yr-old, Calvin, out the door to school, then get myself to work. All before 8:00.
Day three: The wind is trying to sabotage us. We are still biking, Mother Nature. People do this all winter. No excuses I tell Ava. She’s a gamer. Biking and weaving along behind me, her little bell bbbrrr–ringing at every crack in the sidewalk. This is a sticker day for me so Ava and I pick up stickers and head it to one of the corners. We greet each walker/biker kid with a Good Morning and Congratulations on your carbon-free choice to get to school today. We slap a sticker on everyone and send them on their way.
Day four: Rain. At least the wind has relented. We debate about rigging umbrellas to our backpacks and decide against it. It’s not a heavy rain, just consistent and wet. Our rain gear holds for the short ride and Ava beelines in for school breakfast, leaving me to be solo stickerer on the corner.
Finally day five. An added challenge: my 5-yr-old is coming with. Calvin does a stellar job keeping up and showed no signs of fatigue (until later in the day he takes an unprecedented midday nap with the 3 & 4 yr-olds at his school). He and Ava play on the playground while I sticker kids. There are some families/kids that walk/ride most days of the year; others committing to the full home to school route while others park 2-3 blocks away and walk their kids in. Ava called them cheaters, but I explain that we have to kind of let that fly. We are, after all, only half-way committed ourselves because I pick her up after school and throw her bike on the bike rack on my car. And I forgot to mention the weather, but it actually cooperated this day.
Bike/Walk Week proved to be a good challenge. I can think of three goals. 1. It allows kids to think about alternative transportation. My kids asked the following week why couldn’t we always bike to school, the grocery store and even church? Just last night, we biked to our nearby park for my son’s T-ball game. We had so much fun doing that, but I’ll have you know it was prompted because we didn’t have access to a car at the time. 2. Obviously, the purpose of the week is also to get some activity and encourage activity as part of a daily routine. We definitely did. 3. And lastly, we’d have so many kids would participate in the week that they’d stop running the buses, achieving a higher sustainability goal.
We estimated that about 100 kids biked each day (based on a bike count) and similar numbers walked it in for 200 total in a 600-kid school. That’s 33%, Hollanders! We thought the commute was safe, easy and fun (if not chilly) as a way to get to school. I wondered about biking to work…. how feasible would that be? If we can just get employers to add showers at work or collectively relax corporate America dress code, we might eliminate a few more barriers to a bike-friendly society for workers/ lifestyle (not just biking for a workout). That could make for a Nice Ride.