Sunshine, warmer temperatures, and longer days mean that Central Oregonians spend more time outside and this is no different for school students participating in the Walk + Bike Challenge in May. The Walk + Bike Challenge is a friendly, statewide competition aimed at encouraging more kids and families to walk and bike to and from school and throughout their neighborhoods. The Challenge is hosted by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and is locally administered by Commute Options.
The rate of kids walking and biking to school has been on the decline since the 1970s. This is due to several factors, such as suburban sprawl, which increases the distance from homes to schools, perceived traffic or crime related dangers and weather. The goals of the Walk + Bike Challenge include:
Enhancing the health of children. Thirty years ago, 50% of students walked or biked to school nationwide. Today, only 15% participate in active transportation to get to and from school. Childhood obesity and related diseases are on the rise and walking and biking to school paves the way for lifelong physical fitness. Studies also show that kids who engage in regular physical activity perform better academically.
Improving community health. In many places, 20-30% of morning traffic is parents driving their kids to school. The Walk + Bike Challenge aims to reduce traffic and congestion around schools and improve air quality for our communities.
Improving community livability. More people walking and biking in a neighborhood makes people feel happier and safer in their community. It contributes to community interaction and increases commercial, civic and recreational activity—things that make for a vibrant community.
During the Challenge, school coordinators track the number of students biking, walking and skateboarding to school throughout the month. At the end of the Challenge, prizes go to the schools that log the most biking trips, the most walking trips, the largest total number of students walking and biking, and highest percentage of students participating.
Central Oregon schools are showing strong participation, with eight schools signed up to participate – Bear Creek Elementary, Elk Meadow Elementary, High Lakes Elementary, Highland Magnet School, Juniper Elementary, Miller Elementary, Ponderosa Elementary and REALMS Charter School.
REALMS School is planning many activities to get kids walking and biking, including a month long “Stack the Rack”, challenging students to fill the bike racks. Since students come from all over town, they designate morning meeting spots so groups can ride together. Some students have also organized bike fix-up days to get their bikes in working order. Teacher Todd LaFrenz says the school is aiming for 50% participation. “Our location can be a challenge, but we work with Commute Options to create routes that are safe for students, along with the morning meeting points. On certain colder mornings we will offer hot chocolate for our brave riders.”
Commute Options Education Coordinator, Brian Potwin adds, “We are thrilled that local schools are participating in the Walk + Bike Challenge. Incorporating active transportation into schools is an important part of healthy, active living.”
Commute Options promotes choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone. For more information, contact Executive Director, Jeff Monson at 541-330-2647 or visit www.commuteoptions.org
Katy Bryce is a freelance writer in Bend. www.katybryce.com