Bike to School Day events at Garfield Elementary win DDOT Trailblazer Award

On May 8 and May 29, WABA supported Safe Kids DC’s Bike to School Day Events at Garfield Preparatory Academy with Safe Routes to School National Partnership, MPD, DDOT, and Safe Kids World Wide.

301 youth riders from PreK to 5th grade rotated through three stations: a helmet fitting station, a bike obstacle safety course, and a bicycle license plate art project.

MPD-7th District Officers also ran a ‘Play it Safe’ station on one of the days where students played a life-size arcade game and basketball with the officers. After-school care students also had the opportunity to make traffic safety themed flags, and a banner to remind drivers to slow down for bikers and pedestrians around the school. The Bike to School Day events also won the 2019 DDOT Trailblazer Award!

Check out some photos from the Bike to School Day events!

Bikeshare Bingo: Six Years of Biking to School

Read the other entries in our Bike to School Day series here and here.

We are still working on the tandem selfie.

Getting Ready for the Big (New Bike) Day

When my wife, Jodi, informed me that she was pregnant, I went through all of the emotions you’d expect. One thing I didn’t really get caught up in was the excitement of acquiring all of the baby “stuff”, with one exception: bikes. But babies can’t ride bikes, you’re thinking, and you’re right. But I found a way to share my  enthusiasm with my future child: a bike trailer. It would allow me to take the newest member of our family out on runs and rides (and maybe even ski trips). Normally a hard sell when it comes to new bike gear, Jodi actually wanted to join me on the trip to the store because she was so happy to see me so excited.

It’s important to note that a bike trailer worked best for our family. It fit our needs and served the purposes we wanted it to. There are so many different options for carrying kids on bikes, I encourage to look around and ask parents when you see something you like. Our tips for buying a bike trailer:

  • Consider what you want to do with it, is it just for biking or other activities too
  • What size do you need, do you anticipate more than one child in the trailer
  • How many bikes will you attach it to – some trailers are easier to attach to multiple bikes than others

Trailers and Trails

On the guidance of our pediatrician, I waited until my son Noah’s neck was strong enough to support a helmet before our first ride. In an effort to understand how the biking is different when pulling extra weight I first pulled a sack of flour around the neighborhood. Turning and braking was really different and something I constantly had to be conscious of.

I also worried about visibility. First, I wasn’t convinced that drivers would be able to recognize that this is a trailer. There is hi-visibility piping built in to the trailer, but I added lights. I also utilized a tall orange flag to grab driver’s attention.

We started out slow and kept the distance short. He was 11 months old for his first ride and he “chattered” away the whole time, taking in all the sights and sounds in Rock Creek Park. After that, we rode together nearly every weekend Often he would sleep. But sometimes he would “talk,” “sing” or “read.” When he got a bit older we would stop to explore the woods or have a snack. The luxury of the trailer is that there was tons of space to carry everything we needed and more.

After he started daycare ( just under 2 miles from our house), I rode with him almost every day (we only missed 3 days in that year). The trailer provided a covered space to keep him dry in the rain and add layers when it was cold (on the really cold days, I put in a few of those chemical hand warmers to keep the space even more toasty).

Tips for riding with an infant/toddler in a trailer:

  • Don’t start until your child’s neck is strong enough
  • Practice pulling the trailer with some weight in a parking lot
  • Make your trailer as visible as possible
  • Take advantage of all the space a trailer provides and pack extra layers, food, and activities/distractions

A Bicycle Built for Two

Eventually we outgrew the trailer and it was time to look for another way to ride together. A family friend had an old “trail-a-bike” attachment that they were looking to get rid of and we were happy to take. The first time we rode with this, we took it slow and rode around the neighborhood. I wasn’t prepared for how much the attachment leaning to each side would affect my handling. Starting out slow and getting comfortable was key before I started riding on the roads with Noah. He loved being free and on his own bike. He could see more of what was happening and be in more control, especially since he had pedals and his own bell. Frequently, when I was looking behind me to make sure it was clear for us to make a turn, I would see his outstretched arm signaling to drivers that we were turning, just like I was doing a few moments before. This setup worked for us, I was able to carry his school stuff in my panniers and he loved riding to school. The biggest challenge I always had to consider was the weather and Noah’s comfort. Since he wasn’t working as hard as I was he would get colder faster. Choosing appropriate layers and clothing is key. For more tips on layering and youth, click here.

Noah is now in second grade and our commute is just under 4 miles. Our route is a mix of roads and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. We’re not the only ones riding to our school. The community is welcoming and when I have questions for other parents bicycling with kids, they’re happy to answer. We have a different bike set-up now. Noah loves it because he gets to ride in the front and see everything instead of my back. I love it because I get to hear him better and we have a lot of really fun conversations. One of the most recent games we started playing on our ride to school is “Bikeshare Bingo.” We try to spot every type of bikeshare available in the city before we get to school. What’s more fun is that Noah has my loud voice and Jodi’s ability to be super direct. Since he’s on the front of the bike and sees everything happening around him, he’s turned in to a mighty advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Tips on choosing a route:

  • The roads you use to drive to school may not be the best roads to bicycle on
  • Plan your route based off of traffic flow and bike lanes available
  • Ride your route on the weekend first when there’s no stress about getting to school on time
  • Talk with other parents at the school that ride and ask them about their route, see if there’s an opportunity to ride together

Time for his own bike commute

Eventually, Noah will be ready to ride his own bike to school. He keeps asking if today is the day he can ride his own bike. We’ve done a few “trial runs” on the weekends when there’s less traffic. Personally, I’m not ready for him to ride on his yet so I keep putting it off. If we had a protected space for the majority of our ride I’d be more comfortable to let him go. Additionally, I’m just not emotionally ready to no longer have him on the bike with me – we’ve been doing it for more than six years! He thinks he’s ready and wants to do it before the end

of second grade, we’ll see.

On days that we don’t ride to school, Noah will state at least once, while sitting in traffic, “I wish we rode.” My response is always the same, me too Noah, me too.

Closer to Nature and Community

This guest post is by WABA Member Inez Steigerwald, who teaches 3rd and 4th grades in College Park. Read the other entries in our Bike to School Day series here and here.

When you think of Bike to School Day you think of kids on the backs of cargo bikes, kids on trail-a-bikes, kids on their own small bikes riding along with their parents to get to and from school. But this is DC, and riding a bike is often the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get around the city. Getting some exercise is just icing on the cake. That’s why, as a teacher, I ride my bike to work.

My favorite school year commute was the year that my co-teacher and I commuted together. We lived in the same neighborhood and often left work at the same time. We could debrief the day or use the time as a rare opportunity to talk about something other than our students and what we were going to do for math the next day. Having somebody I liked both in and out of the classroom made the three and and half miles across town on busy streets pass quickly, and I often came home feeling simultaneously relaxed and invigorated.

When my school moved a few years later, I got to do half of my ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Tulips in the spring, raspberries in early summer, an incredible view of the sunrise over the Red Line tracks, and a lot less honking. I used to pass the same mom walking her young son to school most mornings. Sometimes I ran into a coworker on my way to work, or a neighbor on my way home. Did you know that they plow the MBT when it snows?

This year I’ve moved to a new school, and my new commute has been my least stressful ride yet — two of my seven miles each way are on residential streets, and the rest is on the Northeast Branch Trail. Have you ever seen the morning mist on the Anacostia? In the mornings I see hardly anyone else — a few people getting in an early morning run, a few dog walkers. In the afternoons the playgrounds and soccer fields I pass are full of people.

It’s not all peachy, of course. Crossing Florida Ave on my bike was nerve wracking every single day—I never thought I’d have such strong feelings about turning right on red. Wintry mix is unpleasant no matter how you commute. But when the choice was 25 minutes of exercise, for free, on my bike or 45 minutes in rush hour traffic on a bus, the choice was clear. Now my commute is longer—45 minutes each way through woods, along running water, checking in with the cranes and the foxes.

I bike to school mostly because it’s affordable and convenient and I like the time outside, but also because it keeps me learning. When I ride, I learn new things every day about the city, about our environment, and about my community, and I think that helps me as a teacher.

Bike to Grad School Too!

Read the other entries in our Bike to School Day series here and here.

Betsy Bagioni is the Coordinator of Women & Bicycles, and a doctoral student in Psychology at GWU. She balances school, work, and life… literally, since if she overpacks one pannier, her bike falls over.

Biking to school sounds like a great idea… but what happens once you hit grad school and the size of your books equals the size your tuition? A typical day for the average grad student can include work AND school AND fun. Is biking even possible?

Pack your stuff

The first reality of grad school is that books can get very large and very numerous. Most of us also have to haul a laptop. Try using a tablet to put as many of your texts and articles into electronic form as possible, but at some point, you’ll have to pack some actual books. A good backpack or pannier is essential. I found I had to upgrade to a “bike specific” backpack (a regular one was just too floppy for comfortable biking) for days when my pannier was just out of space or when I was opting for bike share. Oh, and waterproofing is a must (found that one out the hard way!) if you don’t want your computer or your midterm paper for Psychodynamic Psychopathology to get soggy.

What I like:

Dress the part

Most of us in grad school are simultaneously working or doing internships, so we still have to look professional (on a budget!). A second pannier (or a larger backpack) can hold spare clothes. Often just a change of shirt can be enough. I might wear a t-shirt to ride and change into my nicer top once at work. Careful folding or rolling reduces wrinkles.

Given that I’m sometimes at as many as four school or work sites in one day, that’s a lot of off-and-on the bike. I’m finding that a little padding in the rear is much more helpful than when I had a 3.6 mile out-and-back commute. Let’s just say that when when I have my specialty bike undies and hit one of those famous DC potholes, my tush appreciates that extra cush.

What I like:

Fuel your brain (and your muscles)

Grad students (and college students, entry level workers, and non-profits employees) are often on a tight budget. From the first days of kindergarten, we learned that school equals snacks. Depending on which bike I have for the day, I may or may not have a front basket to toss my lunchbox in. Sometimes, I leave before 7 AM and it can be 8 or 9 PM by the time I’m getting home again. Making sure I have sufficient calories is one assignment I need to get at least a solid B on, so I can save more money for tuition.

What I like:

Bicycling every day?

WABA wants biking to be a comfortable, joyful activity. But the reality of grad school is that some days when I’m really tired, and my load is extra heavy, and it’s raining, and my tires are a little flat, and it’s uphill both ways, I just can’t find the joy. When those rare days occur, I mix it up with a multimodal commute (e.g. biking to Metro on my folding bike), or I might opt for an e-assist bike share to help me haul the heaviest texts up the steep hills of Northeast DC, or I might even take a day off.

You’ll have your own limits. Some days you’ll be stressed out, and you just won’t want to ride. That’s fine! But on other days, the physical activity will be just the ticket to get your mind into the sort of happy space you need to crush your exams.

What I like:

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