The Montclair Bike Bus hit the streets for the first time on Friday, with groups of student and parent bikers heading through town to every Montclair elementary school.
The bike bus also included groups heading to Montclair Community Pre-K and Renaissance at Rand Middle School.
In simple terms, a bike bus is a large group ride with parents and kids on a set route, said Andrew Hawkins, one of the bike bus organizers. But it’s also “a people-powered transportation alternative to help kids ride their bikes to school in a way that’s joyful, fun and safe,” he added. Hawkins is a parent to two students at Edgemont Montessori School.
The organizers, including parents from every elementary school in the district, connected over their love of biking with their kids, Hawkins said. Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the organizers rode bikes to school, and now they want the same for their children, he said.
“We feel like it’s somewhat of a lost art nowadays, with people choosing to drive more than they use their bikes,” Hawkins said. “We live in a very car centric culture — that’s what most people tend to choose if they’re not putting their kids on the bus.”
The organizers were inspired by bike buses across the country, including the most prominent effort, a bike bus to Alameda Elementary in Portland, Oregon, led by the school’s physical education teacher, Sam Balto.
“It was just hugely inspiring to see the town turnout and support this effort to get their kids biking to school,” Hawkins said.
But Balto was just organizing kids heading to one school. Hawkins and the other organizers have created routes to all seven of Montclair’s elementary schools. The group worked with stakeholders in town to bring the effort to life, including the school PTAs and Bike&Walk Montclair
“It’s been an organizationally complex challenge for us to work up these routes and these timetables, but the whole idea is just to try to make it so that it’s safe for kids to ride bikes to school,” Hawkins said.
Several parents in town told the organizers that they do not feel safe sending their elementary age children off to school on their bikes alone, and some said they did not feel safe biking around town themselves, Hawkins said.
“There’s really no infrastructure for biking in our town,” Hawkins said. “If we can do this in an organized way, we can help give other parents and kids the competence to eventually, perhaps bike to school every day of the week.”
The organizers are hoping that the bike bus demonstrates to local leaders that there is interest in better bike infrastructure, Hawkins said. They hope that the central bike bus route can serve as an example of where the township could install bike infrastructure in the coming years.
“We want this to be a very bike friendly town, and we feel like it has the potential to be that,” Hawkins said. “We’re hoping that the bike bus can really help send that message to the township and to our elected leaders that there’s a lot of desire for that kind of infrastructure in town.”
Hawkins and the other organizers are planning to make the bike bus a regular Friday occurrence in Montclair until the end of this school year, Hawkins said.
“We’re hoping that as the weather gets better and people become more aware of the bike bus that we can gain some momentum and get more kids and parents involved,” Hawkins said.
And with the 2022-2023 school year nearing an end, the organizers are already looking to next September.
“We hope to continue to do this next year, the year after and the year after that,” Hawkins said. “This is something that we’re all very passionate about and very committed to.”