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A few months ago I was reading an issue of  Bicycle Paper, a Pacific NW regional cycling publication covering all aspects of cycling in Washington & Oregon. I found an article about a gentleman by the name of Kiel Johnson. Kiel is a local advocate of cycling. When I say advocate, I MEAN ADVOCATE! He is involved!

This particular article was centered around a movement aimed at our cycling future. KIDS! (and their supportive parents)

Imagine… instead of big, yellow, diesel smoke spewing school buses there were ‘trains’ of bicycle riders following a set route to school. Picking up riders along the way, growing in numbers along the way to school! This is what Kiel has started here in Portland.

I conducted an ‘email interview’ with Kiel, shown below:

BC: Kiel, tell our readers about Bike Trains, What are they and what is this about?

KJ: Bike trains are about creating communities of people who bike to school. They are a group of parents and students that bike together to school on a prearranged route. The bike trains in Portland run one morning every week.

There are lots of other positive things that have resulted from helping organize this community. The streets around schools are safer for all users. There is a study that found that 20% of all morning commute traffic comes from parents driving to drop their kid off at school. We should be doing things around schools that make them safe places to be. Kids are our most valuable investment and when we design a school so that everyone uses a car you are creating a dangerous situation. Last year two students in Portland were sadly struck in a hit and run crash while crossing the street to their school. (http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/01/two_students_hurt_in_hit-and-r.html)

We need to understand these tragedies and make sure that we are contributing to a system that prevents them from happening to anyone else. Bike trains are part of finding a solution to this problem. They create a visible, fun, and comfortable alternative. They also draw in a lot of people who are more cautious about biking to school and wouldn’t do it on their own. It is about making biking to school an event, something that people can talk about and feel a part of.

BC:  How many trains exist in Portland today?

KJ: There are seven schools in Portland that have a bike train. A few of them have stopped running during the winter but there is still a lot of participation. I had one parent tell me that last year, before there was a bike train, she would be the only one locking up in the winter. Now there are about ten bikes parked everyday in all weather conditions.

Many schools have several trains that come in from different directions. For instance Beach, which started last year now has four routes.

There is also a bike train that started in Vermont.

BC: How many kids are participating?

KJ: So far there have been 1184 student and parent riders on a bike train this year. That is just counting the official bike train day at each school.

BC: How many adult volunteers does it take to make a successful Bike Train?

KJ: All it takes is one very enthusiastic parent willing to go for it.

BC: How is this type of program funded?

KJ: We just got a $5,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The goal with the grant is to disperse it to the different schools. Let each bike train leader spend it in ways that will improve their school.

BC: How would others go about securing funding for a Bike Train in their communities?

KJ: I wouldn’t worry about funding. I’d just go out and start it.

BC: Do you think business sponsorship might work for a program like this?

KJ: There is a lot of potential for local businesses to sponsor a bike train. There was a bike train in Portland a couple years ago that was sponsored by REI. On a couple occasions the bike train stopped by the REI and staff handed out energy bars and let the riders climb on the climbing rock. REI wins because they look like they are participating in the community and are helping establish future customers. The bike train wins because it makes the riders feel like they are a part of something.

BC: What are your expectations for 2011, in regards to the Bike Train program here in Portland?

KJ: I think April is going to see an explosion of families biking together to school. Everyone feels like we are at a tipping point. Biking to school is becoming “the thing to do”. It is exciting to be a part of this movement.

Kiel has put in tons of work to make biking to school a viable form of transportation for many kids here in Portland. I have done it for my own kids since moving here, now it’s time to move onto a much bigger stage. I have been talking with the PTA president at my kids’ school and Kiel. We are planning on starting our own Bike Train here in NE Portland. I will keep you posted!

If any reader(s) would like to contact Kiel to pursue a Bike Train in their area, the best ways to contact him are shown below:

Email: biketrainpdx@gmail.com

Check out the progress of the Portland area bike trains at http://www.biketrainpdx.org/