Make Way For Wolfie's Bike Train
At Wolftrap Elementary School, the Safe Routes to School Program helps kids bike and walk to school safely
They rolled down Liberty Tree Lane in a tight pack of two-wheelers and helmets, on bikes big and small, black bikes and white bikes with pink-trimmed baskets.
"Wolfie's Bike Train" outnumbered commuting cars on its two-mile trek to Wolftrap Elementary School on Thursday morning as more than 20 children biked to school under the Safe Routes to School initiative, a program designed to help communities make walking and biking to school a safe part of students' morning routine.
"I feel great when I ride the bike train. I get myself to school, and I have my own space. It's cool because you actually get to pedal and exercise instead of just sitting there on the bus," 7-year-old Carlyle, who biked on Thursday, said. "You get to see some of your friends, and you get to practice going up and down hills. There is this huge hill that we go down, and it goes sooooo fast! I want to do the bike train again and again because it's fun."
Forty years ago, about half of all students walked or used their bike to get to school, according to a 1972 nationwide transportation study. Today, more than half of all students arrive to school in their parent's cars.Only about one in 10 kids walk to school – fewer than 15 percent of all school trips. About a quarter of trips to school are on a school bus.
"Typically there are only three or four bikes here every day," the crossing guard outside Wolftrap Elementary said Thursday.
Jeff Anderson, whose children attend Wolftrap, started "Wolfies Bike Train" in 2007 as a way to help kids in the two-mile radius around Wolftrap bike to school safely. Though some areas around the school have adequate sidewalks or paths, many of his children's friends don't have a good way to get to school, or even to a location where Anderson could meet them to help them along the way.
The movement not only reduces traffic around the school, it also gives kids a way to get in some exercise before they start class, which Anderson said is proven to help them perform better academically. Ultimately, he said, it will help kids be more active now and in the future.
"I started this so more people would see it was OK and safe to ride to school," Anderson said. "But this, ideally, should happen on its own."
Of the $13,000,000 SRTS has made available to Virginia schools since 2007, Fairfax County, the largest school district in the state, has only received around $17,000 – less than one percent of all money available. That money has been used at Lynbrook Elementary and Lousie Archer Elementary School, according to the Fairfax Advocates for Better Biking
Even without money, "Wolfie's Bike Train" has made some progress. The school didn't have any bike racks in 2007—now there are two along the side of the building. Last May, Wolftrap participated in Bike/Walk to school week, a national effort to encourage more children to walk or bike to school which has become an annual competition among Vienna's elementary schools. At Wolftrap, 230 kids walked and 50 biked to school one day that week, which is more than 50 percent of the school's enrollment, Anderson told FABB last year.
"I get to be with my friends and I get to ride my bike instead of wasting gas riding the bus. It's like a big party," Anderson's daughter Carina said.
Since last April, Anderson has led about one ride each month, and hopes to continue even throughout the colder weather.
That kind of involvement is part of what the school would need to earn state funding for a road improvement project of their own.
And improved infrastructure wouldn't just help the kids – it would help their parents too.
"If there were more sidewalks and paths that connected to more places, adults could use them to get to work, too," he said. "There's a lot of synergy to what we're doing."