The sidewalks and roads around three Vienna elementary schools were more crowded than usual Monday morning as students, parents and school officials kicked off the third annual Bike/Walk to School Challenge.
The challenge, held in conjunction with National Bike To Work Week, encourages children and their parents to leave their cars at home for the week -- and with luck, make it a habit.
More than 300 students at Wolftrap, Vienna and Cunningham Park Elementary Schools biked or walked to school on Monday, said Jeff Anderson, a Wolftrap parent who organizes the school's "bike train," a caravan of bikes that commutes together to school.
Parent volunteers are counting the number of walkers and bikers that arrive at each school every morning this week. The school with the highest number of participants will win this year's challenge.
While the numbers tracked this week are mostly for bragging rights, they will also be used for future years, and could support any future Safe Routes To School applications, Anderson said. Both Vienna and Cunningham Park submitted SRTS applications to the Virginia Department of Transportation this year with the hopes of securing more funding for sidewalk projects that make it easier for students to walk or bike to school.
Anderson helped start the challenge three years ago, in the 2008-09 school year. Four schools -- Louise Archer, Wolftrap, Vienna and Marshall Road -- participated, and in five days, more than 2,800 kids biked or walked to school, Anderson said.
Last year, Wolftrap Elementary forged the challenge alone, with Vienna Elementary joining on the last day. Nine hundred walkers and 174 bikers from Wolftrap joined the cause, but "more importantly, Wolftrap dropped kiss-and-ride usage by 50 percent from more than 140 on Monday to 70 on Friday," Anderson said.
This year, the challenge is off to a roaring start. On day one, Wolftrap had 138 kids walk and 33 kids bike; Vienna Elementary had 117 kids bike or walk ; and Cunningham Park had 20 kids ride their bikes.
"I am hoping the number grows and the rain stays away from 8:10-8:35," said Tara MacCall, who ran Vienna Elementary School's first ever bike train this morning.
Sharon Baum, the SRTS chair for Cunningham Park, said in addition to counting bike riders this morning, parent volunteers saw 68 students being dropped off singularly, and 91 students being dropped off in a carpool. Compared with 2010 average numbers -- 100 students dropped off singularly and 85 in a carpool -- that's a marked improvement.
Wolftrap will be running its bike train, along with a walking train down Beulah Road, throughout the week. On Tuesday, Hunter Mill District School Board member Stu Gibson is joining a walking school bus and professional mountain biker Chris Eathough is riding the Bike Train, Anderson said.
On Wednesday, Sup. Cathy Hudgins, Del. Mark Keam and Fairfax County Department of Transportation member Charlie Strunk will ride the bike train, and on Friday, Wolftrap Principal Anita Blain will ride with the kids in her second bike train of the year.
Vienna Patch will continue to update results of the challenge throughout the week.