Editor’s note: I had the great fortune of working with author Megan Rosenbach at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia for the three and a half years I was there. Megan has done some amazing things with the Safe Routes Philly program, and we are lucky to have her share more about her work here. Look for more articles from Megan about youth bicycle education soon. This weekend, while you’re at the Bike Expo, look for the Coalition’s Diana Owens Steif at the ABCs of Family Biking seminar.

Meredith School students ride down Front Street.

What do bicycles and trains have in common?  Yes, bicycles are allowed on SEPTA trains at certain times of day, but that is not what I am thinking. Yes, they are both commonly used forms of transportation in Europe, but that is not what I am thinking either!  I am thinking of bicycle trains, which are a fun way for kids and families to ride in a group to get to school, the zoo, or a friend’s birthday party across town. A bicycle train is a wheeled version of  a walking school bus, where two or more adults lead a group of students to school, “picking up” more children along the way.

Meredith School, which is located at 5th and Fitzwater in the Queen Village neighborhood, has organized four bicycle train days since last April. Safe Routes Philly, The Bicycle Coalition’s youth education and encouragement program, helped Meredith School apply for a Safe Routes to School grant in November 2012. The school was awarded $10,000 to start a Safe Routes Ambassador program, which aims to encourage more families to choose active transportation — be it walking, biking, or scooting — for their school commute. A parent committee, made up of of nine moms and dads who are avid bicycle commuters and often bike to school with their children, formed last spring to help increase active transportation to school. One of the committee’s first projects was a bicycle train, and over twenty parents and children participated. That number grew to over forty for the October 9th bicycle train. The group intends to plan monthly bicycle trains for the remainder of the year, including the winter months!

Meredith teachers and parents ride behind a bicycle train wearing bright yellow Safe Routes Philly vests last May.

Here are some strategies the Meredith Safe Routes program uses to plan and implement bicycle train events at their school:

  1. Form a Safe Routes Committee. Meredith’s committee started small, with two dads, and has grown to nine moms and dads in just a few months.

  2. Get the Principal on board! Meredith’s Principal has actively participated in the planning and execution of the bicycle trains, including riding with students and  placing “robo calls” to all families in advance of the ride.

  3. Choose a common starting location that is familiar to families. Meredith’s bicycle trains meet at Rizzo Rink, a neighborhood recreation center that students often visit. Parks and empty parking lots also make good starting locations.

  4. Ride the route in advance to anticipate any issues you may encounter while riding with a large group of children. Choosing streets with bike lanes or low-traffic, one-lane streets is best. Remember the group can ride in the middle of the lane, just like cars, and should avoid the car door zone. For the first ride, you should ask a bicycle Police Officer in your District to accompany the group. With or without police escort, make sure a few adults wear bright safety vests.

  5. Teach basic bicycle safety to participants before the ride. This can include signaling, staying visible, checking their bicycle for safety, and helmet fit (all children under 12 must wear a helmet by Pennsylvania law). Check out Safe Routes Philly’s bicycle safety lessons for more ideas and resources.

Have more questions? Good News! You can learn more about bicycle trains and Family biking this weekend at the Bike Expo. The Bicycle Coalition’s ABCs of Family Biking workshop is from 1:30 to 2:30pm on Saturday, November 9, in room 124 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. We hope to see you there!  If you cannot make it, Safe Routes Philly is a resource for schools and parents interested in planning bicycle trains. You can get started on planning a bicycle train with this how to guide that Atlanta Bike put together. (Now that we have learned a few things, Safe Routes Philly plans to create our own guide this month.)

Safe Routes Philly promotes biking and walking as fun, healthy forms of transportation in Philadelphia Elementary Schools. We do this primarily by providing pedestrian and bicycle safety curriculum, programming, and support for the schools. You can find out more about Safe Routes Philly by visiting www.saferoutesphilly.org. To join our monthly newsletter list, Walk ‘n’ Wheel, click here.