Maine children hit their stride with bicycling, walking initiatives
This article originally appeared in the Portland Sun.
Published Date Tuesday, 07 May 2013 21:01
Written by David Carkhuff
“In Maine we’ve gone to looking at the whole month of May as walking and biking to school month,” said Darcy Whittemore, program manager for the Maine Safe Routes to School program. “We’re hoping that people get in the habit and like the idea of walking and biking to school daily.”
A first-in-the-state Walking School Bus program in Portland has hit the ground running, evidence that kids and exercise do mix, even if it’s in the morning en route to school.
And Wednesday afternoon at City Hall, the city hopes to attract residents to a meeting about a proposed Bikeshare initiative, a program in which bicycles are made available for shared use for short-distance trips as an alternative to motorized public transit or private vehicles.
“We had absolutely every type of bike imaginable at this event,” Grant said in the final hours of the swap, noting that “lots of families with kids” attended. Clark reported “as many bikes as ever, we sold almost everything,” with roughly 1,000 bikes on the floor. For the first time, anybody who wanted to sell a bike could register the bike online, a “huge improvement,” Clark added.
A pilot program started with Reiche School and East End Community School, the Walking School Bus program is “growing in interest every day,” according to Whittemore. Maine Safe Routes to School program is one of the partners who launched this walk-rather-than-ride alternative for school children last month.
Participating children “look forward to waking up and going to school,” and they are able to connect with neighbors along the route, Critchfield noted. Whittemore said volunteers are key to the program’s success since many supervisors can assure the children’s safety.
Leaders will follow a route of up to one mile, picking up children along the way at designated stops. “The program offers volunteers a way to get regular exercise and to interact with young people in the neighborhood,” Whittemore noted. Parents benefit as well, she agreed. “It relieves a big burden for people who are juggling multiple kids and early work, it’s a benefit to the parents that their kids are getting to school safely, but also the people who have volunteered say it’s a wonderful thing for them,” she said. “Hopefully it’s a model that we can replicate and adapt to different neighborhoods,” Whittemore said, noting that Lyseth Elementary and Riverton Elementary are candidates to start in the fall. The program continues to welcome volunteers this spring. All volunteers receive an hour of training, and a criminal background check is required, at no cost to the volunteers. To learn more, visit www.portlandwalkingschoolbus.org, or contact Critchfield, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 200-5287.
Maine Safe Routes to School grants
Mini-grants for up to $250 can give a nudge for healthier transportation options, Whittemore said.
“It just adds enough of a carrot so that a teacher or maybe a school nurse or someone who is working with the Healthy Maine Partnerships, as long as they put a team together and plan several activities for biking or walking to school, it’s a fairly easy thing to accomplish in a short amount of time,” she said. Maine’s federally funded Safe Routes to School Program is a program of the Maine Department of Transportation, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and communities throughout the state. This spring, 15 schools, municipalities and organizations from across the state were picked to receive up to $250 to support projects designed to encourage students and their families to safely walk and bicycle to school and after-school activities. The mini-grant activities, some led by students, will occur this spring.
Those include, in Portland, Lincoln Middle School, which plans: Walk and Bike to School Week; the start of a year-round, student-led Safe Routes to School group with adult facilitator; and Student Travel Tally. Portland’s Lyseth Elementary School, which plans: Bike rodeo; distribution of new helmets and used bikes to students in need, with assistance of the Multilingual Center and a local bike shop; Bike to School Day on May 8; installation of a much-needed bike rack for upper elementary wing; and Student Travel Tally. “For not a lot of money, you get a lot of things happening,” Whittemore noted. “It brings more awareness to the program and to safety,” she said, noting that children can buy reflective zipper-pulls and vests among the accessories. “We’ve seen, beyond Portland, there are more and more schools who are developing in-school fleets of bicycles so they can teach biking during P.E. class,” Whittemore said. Kennebunk Elementary School is one example of a school with a bike fleet. After-school bike clubs also are popular. “I think more and more parents are understanding that they would like their children to be more active, and walking and biking to school is one way to accomplish that,” Whittemore said. For more information, visit MaineSafeRoutes.org.
Wednesday, May 8
Lincoln Middle School — Walk and Bike to School Week, May 6-10; Lyseth School — National Bike to School Day on May 8; Walk to School Day and Bike Rodeo; Ocean Avenue Elementary — Monthly Walk and Roll to School Days all year, Bike Rodeo in June.
Proposed travel changes in Libbytown
Bikeshare Public Forum
Sunday, June 2
Ride for women in Freeport 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ride for women in Freeport, LL Bean’s Casco Conference Center, Casco Street, Freeport. This all-female ride is suited for girls and women of all ages and fitness levels, with distances of 10, 25, 50 and 75 miles. The ride offers beautiful views of the countryside and coast. Begin or end the ride with a free massage. The pre-registration fee is $35 (members) and $45 (public rate, including a six-month trial membership in the Bicycle Coalition of Maine), with a $10 discount for children 12-17 and seniors (over 65). Children under 12 ride free. Proceeds benefit the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s work to improve bicycling in Maine. For more information, a video about the ride and online registration, go to http://www.bikemaine.org/events/womens-ride or call 623-4511.