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'Bike buses:' Kids are commuting to school together in group bike rides and the idea is catching on

The teacher wanted the children to have more physical exercise and learn about the ways they can help the environment.

'Bike buses:' Kids are commuting to school together in group bike rides and the idea is catching on
Cover Image Source: YouTube/BikePortland

A teacher from Portland, Oregon, is using an innovative way to encourage students to bike to school. With his unique "bike bus" idea, he has gathered supporters across the world for his initiative that gets students to bike to school at least once a week. Sam Balto, a physical education teacher at Alameda Elementary, said his inspiration to create a "bike bus" was to get his students to do more physical exercise, reports Route Fifty. However, his videos of a large group of children biking together through residential neighborhoods have spread the concept well beyond urban areas. 



In the videos, young people take over the streets while being closely watched by parents and other adults. As the bikes ride past driveways and over speed bumps, people wave and shout. Balto shouts encouragement while blasting cheerful music by artists like Harry Styles, The Weeknd and Bruno Mars. Balto said, "Once people see it, they see the joy of the children, and it snaps something in us."


He added, "We all remember where we were when we learned how to ride a bike. So it touches something from our childhood, that beautiful natural joy that you get when you’re on a bicycle." Around 75 youngsters per week attended the trips in the spring of last year. There are now roughly 170 pupils. Balto's videos have been featured in TV news reports around the nation.



However, Balto isn't simply interested in creating happy moments. In order to improve children's physical health, communities and the environment, he wants to change the way they get to and from school. He even organized "walking school buses" when he first joined a school in Boston seven years ago. Although the idea of walking school buses has been around for years, Balto was crucial in launching them in Boston with the backing of Bloomberg Philanthropies as a strategy to increase children's physical activity levels.

"I never got into this to be an environmentalist. I never got into this to improve students’ academics," he said. "I was just trying to get them more physical activity. But it touches on all of those things. I call the walking school bus or a bike bus your Swiss Army knife. What’s your biggest problem? I guarantee the walking school bus or the bike bus is going to fix it."



After advocates in Barcelona and San Francisco launched comparable initiatives in other towns, Balto's first bike bus arrived in April for Earth Day. Compared to other schools Balto had worked at, Alameda's area attracted more participants to the bike bus because there were more single-family houses nearby, making it more realistic for youngsters to own and use a bike. Balto says that participation increased as kids are attracted to the social aspects of his initiative other than just biking.

He said, "There’s a sense of FOMO [fear of missing out]. There’s peer pressure and wanting to be with their friends. Kids love to be social." Balto thinks that the bike buses will pave the way for longer-lasting reforms that will encourage kids to use active transportation to get to school. According to him, however, existing state law in Oregon only permits school districts to use transportation funds for bus transportation and not for other purposes.



He says that relying on just the volunteers like himself to organize such an initiative wouldn't last that long. Balto claims that as a parent of young children, he might only be able to continue guiding the routes until the end of the year. "If there’s an infrastructure to pay somebody new to do this on a regular basis like we pay bus drivers, this becomes a form of transportation that’s reliable," he explained. He wants the authorities to repurpose their budget to prove a better and healthier means of transportation for kids to school. 

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