Catching the bus has a whole new meaning for a group of students at Lakeridge School.
The bike bus invites kids to hop on their bikes and join other students for the ride to and from school on Friday. Teacher — and bike bus "driver" — Kent Ritchie charted a route that begins in the Briarwood neighbourhood and picks up students along the way before arrival at the school located on Waterbury Road.
Ritchie, a year-round cyclist, hoped to get more kids cycling and the once-a-week bike bus was one way to encourage learning about safe cycling and active transportation.
"I looked at the catchment area for Lakeridge students that rode the bus and noticed that it would make a nice morning ride for students living in Briarwood," he said. "I set up the bike route to go along Briarwood Road, Boychuk Drive, and finally across to Lakeridge School.
"The fact that there is a shared sidewalk/pathway along most of the bike route makes it suitable. There is no need to ride on the street with cars. As well, the farthest distance to Lakeridge from the catchment area is reasonable – at the most 3.5 km or 20 minutes. Most kids joining have about 1.5 km to bike."
Ritchie emphasized safety for students joining the bike bus — communicating with parents and riders about such things as dismounting at major intersections, wearing helmets, and riding on pathways — in order to help parents feel comfortable about letting their kids ride to school.
There are no designated stops so cyclists can join the group of riders at any place along the route for the ride to school, as long as they communicate their location in advance. In the afternoon, the bike bus drops of students along the return route and they then ride the short distance to their homes on their own.
The initial run in late April was open to students in grades 4-8 and ridership was spread out evenly across those grades.
"Having the bus bike led by a school staff member, I believe, builds trust and confidence from the parents who allow their children to join and ride the bike bus," Ritchie said. "For some parents, letting their child bike to school unsupervised is a concern. The bike bus alleviates this concern for many parents. As the bike bus grows, more kids and parents will see this a viable way to get to school."
The program had to pause briefly, but Ritchie sees building momentum and interest from the students and he expects greater interest when the Friday morning and afternoon rides resume. He said opportunities such as the bike bus supporting the goals of the school division's Move To Grow initiative and can hopefully play a role in increasing student and family participation in alternate and active transportation.
"My hope is that kids will be an advocate for their parents to get around their community and beyond by bike and leave the car behind," he said. "Biking safety is a very important goal. Children need to learn how to cycle respectfully and safely. This initiative gives them hands-on experience. My hope is that kids will have the confidence and be independent to be able to bike to school every day — with or without the bike bus."
And in a school year where opportunities to bring students from different grades together have been almost non-existent, an outdoors activity done in a supervised and responsible manner was something that was enjoyed by everyone.
"This initiative provides an opportunity for kids to get outside and exercise — especially helpful before a day of learning at school or after a long day," Ritchie said.
"With school-wide activities paused this year, I could see a sense of community among the students who joined across the grades. This was something nice to see. There were even a couple of classes outside waiting and cheering us on as we rolled into the schoolyard. The kids really felt proud."