Today was Bike to School Day?

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

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(This is actually a photo of a spectacular scooter-and-skateboard crash yesterday, zero bikes involved.)

I remember how excited I was to finally have a kindergartner, lo four years ago now. We biked to preschool each and every day, and occasionally inspired other families to bike, too, but a ten-family preschool has nothing on a 400-student elementary school! We’d finally be a real part of National Bike to School Day, Cascade Bicycle Club’s school-based programming, and Safe Routes to School.

Being the Bike to School Mom was great fun. Each school in our district is different and I found a lot of help in the parent-run grassroots Walk.Bike.Schools! group started by long-successful Bike to School parents who didn’t want the rest of us to have to reinvent the wheel. I don’t think the group is active anymore, but there’s still good info to be found on the website if you’re looking to start or improve your program.

Bike to School doesn’t have to be a huge time investment and for those of us here in Seattle, the Cascade Bicycle Club Bike to School resources have developed in an amazing way over the last few years. Some schools have more support and buy-in than others, and while Bike to School isn’t an unofficial part of our curriculum as in some schools, I was welcome to come talk to the kids about Bike to School at lunchtime, hang posters, run bike rodeos, and lead bike trains.

And everything was awesome! Two years ago I was in the Bike to School Day spotlight by the League of American Bicyclists, a story later included in their year-end inspirational stories.

Last year was huge, too. Not biggest-in-the-city huge, but something to be proud of. And most importantly, everyone had fun.

Then this year I threw it all away. A parent sent a very upset email to me (and some PTA parents and the principal), disappointed about a monthly bike-to-school day, something new from our school’s sustainability chair this year. The actual complaints were kind of weird, with expectations of a scooter being used in the hall and at recess, but the tone was impossible to misinterpret. While I’m not in this for accolades, I’m really only in it to have fun and encourage others to have fun. Reading this email was decidedly unfun. I sent an apologetic email, of course, and acknowledged that axing the whole program was a valid suggestion…not that it was my decision to make, but I would indeed remove myself from the program. Basically I’m a big baby and I’m never volunteering for anything ever again (except for my non-bike-related school volunteer duties to which I’m fully committed.) I assumed/hoped someone else would take over, but apparently that didn’t happen because our school didn’t participate in Bike to School Day today.

I feel like I’ve been complaining a lot lately, what with sharing the shoe thing, the “Hey, gorgeous!” thing, and the mean email to stay out of Burien. I tell myself they’re learning experiences and my thinking them through publicly is my easiest way to process things and will help me react more gracefully in the event of a next time…and hopefully my unfortunate experiences help others in some small way. But am I just getting disillusioned and crotchety? I see it happen to friends. I don’t think so in my case. And we did bike to school today…

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We don’t generally bike to school nowadays since we live two flat blocks from school and we can walk there in the time it takes the kids to locate and buckle their helmets. But today–even though I failed our school–we got our bikes out (well, two bikes, because my first grader didn’t want to pedal with his scraped knee from yesterday’s spectacular SKATETRON crash). We biked a mile uphill to Mighty-O Donuts (where I used to buy doughnuts for all the schoolkids) for a treat before school. We saw a big group of biking families gathered across the street, preparing to ride to nearby Cascadia Elementary. I was a little embarrassed to be seen without my own big bike train in tow. I was mentally chastising myself for being an overly-sensitive asshole when one of the dads shouted “I love your blog!” Well, damn. THANKS, CASCADIA BIKING DAD! You lifted my gloomy spirits and it was awesome seeing you out biking amidst the sea of happy kids and parents, and you made me realize I was happy to be out biking and doing what little I’m capable of doing for Bike to School Day this year.

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I feel a tad bit the poseur with Red Tricycle’s 10 Cool Biking Parents Reinventing the Wheel being released today. I am honored to be included in such an illustrious group, but couldn’t it have published yesterday or tomorrow? ;)

I don’t know if this is a cautionary tale or just another complainy post, but keep doing what you’re doing, especially if it’s encouraging more biking! Any little bit counts, probably more than you even realize.

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5 thoughts on “Today was Bike to School Day?

  1. Oh Madi, big hugs! Your generousity in volunteering your time to make biking fun for the rest of us is beyond approach. It must be so upsetting to get those kinds of responses. However I have to believe that anyone who knows you would only have praises for all the wonderful work you do for your community.

    Next time we are together I want to take to you more about this bike to school day and how to organize it. Portland public schools don’t participate. I tried to get them interested last year with no success. It does seem like the bike racks are fuller on those days so I think some people are aware of it and participating independently and it makes me kinda sad that while we are all participating in something together we are missing out on that community element that could really help kids find the joy in being part of something bigger.

    Anyway, please know that I (and a whole lot of other people I’m sure) think you are an amazingly generous and inspiring community leader!

    • Wow, I cannot believe Portland doesn’t have built-in Bike to School Day stuff! I am one of many who assume Portland has everything we don’t ;) Yes, let’s talk! And check out the Cascade resources as well as the Walk.Bike.Schools! site I linked to above. They’ve got good advice that works for any city/school. As does the National Bike to School website. I’ll be down Memorial Day weekend, but coming *by bike* the whole way so I might be less eloquent than normal.

  2. I’m not sure how I found this blog entry but it’s really frustrating to me that some lousy parents stuck their noses where they don’t belong and ended up ruining it for the rest. I admire the take your toys and go home approach. Sustainability in bike/walk programs is one of the biggest challenges even if you can build a culture at the school and find new champions. Great job….your kids will benefit the most. Those other parents’ kids not so much…

      • Don’t feel that way. After glancing thru the blog, you put a lot of effort in biking w/ kids and others don’t appreciate it. Others have to step up…..like anything.

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