In Vienna, biking to school gains momentum

Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County Times - Students and parents gather in the Oakton Glen neighborhood to bike for a group ride to Flint Hill Elementary School as part of Walk and Wheels Wednesday.

What started as a parent’s request to add a bicycle rack outside Wolftrap Elementary School in Vienna has become a community-wide effort to increase the number of students walking or biking to school.

“The origins were somewhat personal in that I wanted my kid to be able to lock up her bike at school,” said Vienna resident Jeff Anderson, a father of three who has led the effort in town.

“My oldest was a first-grader [in spring 2008], and I said, ‘Hey, can we get a bike rack, and [the principal] said she wasn’t going to act until the fall. So, like, day two in the fall [2008], I asked again,” Anderson said. “The school system is good. If the principal wants a bike rack, they’ll install it.”

“That bike rack led me to ask, ‘How do we get more kids to bike to school?’ ” Anderson said.

In spring 2009, when the weather was nice, Anderson conducted his first “Bike Train,” a bike-to-school program for Wolftrap students.

Today, in its fifth year, Anderson’s “Bike Train” is a monthly morning occurrence. Students, often accompanied by their parents, meet at Anderson’s house or along a route to the school. Anderson leads a pack of children on bikes, giving them safety tips along the way. They gather at 8 a.m. and arrive at school about 8:30, Anderson said. They average about 10 children for the Bike Train.

“It ebbs and flows,” Anderson said. “A lot of it has to do with the weather. We’ve biked to school in 18 degrees and 80 degrees.”

In the afternoon, the students return home as a group or are picked up by a parent.

“Mr. Anderson works tirelessly to ensure student safety, while promoting physical fitness,” Wolftrap Principal Teresa Khuluki said. “Those students who bike to school arrive energized and ready to start their school day. His program also decreases the amount of cars in our kiss-and-ride, and I often hear him congratulating the students who bike for helping the environment by lessening carbon emissions in Vienna.”

Parents said Anderson’s drive is the key to the success of the Wolftrap program and the spread of similar programs to other local elementary schools.

As a spinoff to the Bike Train program, Vienna elementary schools have begun competing against one another in participation contests such as this year’s fifth annual Bike/Walk Challenge from May 6 to 10. All seven Vienna elementary schools will participate this year, for the first time: Wolftrap, Westbriar, Cunningham Park, Flint Hill, Louise Archer, Marshall Road and Vienna.

“Vienna is actually pretty active. [Schools] all have Safe Routes coordinators,” said Sean McCall, a Vienna Elementary parent and the school PTA’s Safe Routes to School coordinator.

Safe Routes to School is a Virginia Department of Transportation program in which community meetings are held to map and coordinate walkable or bikeable routes to schools.

Vienna Elementary has a Walking Wednesdays program. About a third of the students walk or bike to school every Wednesday, often joined by parents, McCall said.

Anderson said he was surprised, but excited, that alternatives to riding buses or having parents drive students to school are taking off.

“A lot of this was grass roots and parents getting over their fears,” Anderson said. “There are a lot more [school programs] bubbling up, incorporating [walking and biking] in their own way.”

 
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