Back to school, bike to school

The scene last night: backpacks were labeled, lunches were packed, breakfast smoothies were prepped. Ahh, the first day of school eve.

Lovely morning, cool and sunny. The kids got up early since they were excited about the first day of school. Lots of bikes coming into Stevens Elementary. The increase of bikes from last school year seems to have continued into the fall. Happy new school year! -- Julie Salathe, Education Director at Cascade

Today, thousands of kids returned to school across Puget Sound region. Though many of them were driven to school, more kids and their parents are walking and biking to class instead. As Tim Blumenthal noted on HuffPo yesterday, biking to school is "enjoying a promising revival." Our trio happily joined the people-powered fray on this beautiful September morning.

The first few days of school are often full of glassy eyes, nervous smiles and sometimes a tear or two. And that’s just the parents.

The chaos at drop-off was intense today. Flashing cameras, hugging parents, kids chasing each other, teachers welcoming us all, and out in the street, a tangle of vehicles. I’m glad we hopped on the family bike today instead of driving. We wove through mostly quiet side streets from home, then found a cluster of traffic around the school epicenter itself. Walking was safer than riding those last two blocks.

The trip to school has changed dramatically in the past 40 years. Instead of streams of children walking and bicycling to and from school, today school administrators struggle to manage a back-up of cars and buses, with time-pressed parents and bus drivers trying to drop off children at the school entrance. Approximately 45 percent of children today are driven to school by their parents and 39 percent ride school buses, which costs school districts and families billions of dollars in gasoline each year. And, just 13 percent of children in the United States ages 5 to 14 walk or bicycle to and from school—down from nearly 50 percent in 1969.

--Safe Routes to School and Traffic Pollution

I pushed the bike up the hill to the rack, and though I wasn't alone, I did wish silently that there were more family and kid bikes parked alongside mine. Designing better, safer, more family-friendly streets will help tip us over into higher participation rates.

Until then, we'll keep on biking as much as we can fit it in and inviting people to join us along the way. The exercise feels great, less driving keeps our air fresher, we see friends and neighbors, and we feel more connected to our community. Plus, September is just too perfect a time not to ride bikes.

And this month, we have one more reason to ride. When you log your bike to school trips (and any trips you make by bike) on the 2 Mile Challenge website, CLIF Bar will donate $1 to the Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation.

Hop on your bike. Let's ride!

Is your family biking to school? I'd love to hear how it's going for you. Are there many bikes or few? Is your school supportive? If you're not riding, are you interested in getting started?