Perhaps you’ve seen Montclair’s new Bike Bus making its way through town. It’s hard to miss – lots of kids and adults pedaling through town, some in bright yellow vests.
A bike bus is an adult-led bike ride that follows a specific route and timetable. I first spotted it while waiting for our yellow school bus and decided to join a ride to get a sense of what it’s all about. The day I biked there were 170 riders following routes all over town. The following week there were more than 200. I joined a ride to Watchung Elementary because I wanted to bike past my regular bus stop. It’s pretty easy to participate. Most schools have an official group ride on Fridays. Routes are posted on the website. Find the one that best works for your family. To get “on” the bike bus, check the timetable and wait along the route. When you see the bikers heading your way, hop in line. And that’s what I did. Sort of. I was supposed to be at Macopin and Park Street at 8:15, but I was late and ended up joining the group in a different spot. It all worked out.
My maiden voyage was a lot of fun and left me wanting to do it again, this time with my son. But I did have some questions. For example, we are a Charles H. Bullock family. Would my son feel comfortable biking 2.2 miles across town? Would I feel comfortable biking across town? Bike Bus parent organizer Andrew Hawkins answers questions about the program.
What can we do to encourage a child who may not be ready to join the bike bus?
If you’re uncertain or your kid is uncertain, test it out on the weekends. My daughter is 7 and goes to Edgemont. We’ve done biking around our neighborhood. But she hadn’t really biked longer than a mile until we started the bike bus. And I was uncertain about her ability to do it because we are about three miles from the school. So we tested it out. We took a weekend and my wife, daughter and I biked to the school with my 5-year-old son on the back of my bike. My daughter was confident and told us that she could do it.
Are there plans to have routes from the South Side of town riding north? Are there routes for every school?
When we started the whole process of planning out the routes we were pretty underrepresented on the South Side in terms of parents who were involved with organizing. And that was something we were eager to rectify. We do have routes southbound, south to north routes, for most of the schools. If there are parents who live south of their schools or live on the South Side of town and want a route that goes to their school, they can reach out to us. We can assist with logistics and mapping, but need more parent volunteers to be captains.
What can the township do to better support the Bike Bus route?
Broadly we’d like to see infrastructure improvements that can help support traffic calming measures, better infrastructure for pedestrians, better crosswalks, and obviously bike lanes. We’d love to see a network of bike lanes. And while I think the main goal is to make a safe and fun environment for kids to bike to school, it’s also to demonstrate to the town that there is a desire to support more active transportation.
Do you guys have any budget?
We don’t really have a set budget. We’re all just sort of like chipping in on our own. And we’ve accepted a few donations. But for the most part it’s been all out-of-pocket expenses for us. We’re all volunteers. We’re hoping to get more people involved so we can get more kids out on the road. Jersey City just started a bike bus a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve already got some great participation. There’s been bike buses in Barcelona and all over the country, all over the world, really. And so it’s really turning into a global movement. We’re really excited that Montclair can be a part of that.
Does it cost anything to join?
It’s pretty much free except you need a bike. We’ve heard anecdotally from a lot of people who’ve reached out to us and say, I’d love to do this, but I don’t have a bike, or my kid doesn’t have a bike and I’m unsure how to get one or I can’t afford one. And that’s something that’s on our short list of things, maybe get a bike swap or some sort of bike exchange going. We don’t want the lack of a bike to be a barrier for anyone.
And do you think that at some point, if possible, you might bike on other days – not just on Fridays?
If the demand is there and people want to do it, absolutely. We hope this inspires people to bike with their kids or let their kids bike independently to school if they feel safe enough doing that.
Is there the possibility of having a circuit around town?
I think that that’s such a cool idea. I love the idea of a circuit around town because the way that it’s shaped it would be very conducive to something like that.
What happens if someone gets a flat tire? Do people carry pumps?
We remind all our riders to check the air in their tires before every Bike Bus. Some of our adult volunteers carry spare tubes, but I’m not sure if anyone has a pump on them — they might! We plan on doing a “bike maintenance 101” session for kids and adults at our group ride/family picnic event on 6/3.
What do people do with bikes after the ride? Is there a Bike Bus after school? How do the kids get home?
No official Bike Bus ride back as of yet. People do different things. Some people ride the reverse route home. Sometimes parents pick up the bikes with a car. We have some riders who organize informal rides home together, but with aftercare and different schedules, it’s largely up to the parents to decide how to get home.
Anything else you want to share?
In 1969, nearly 50% of school children in the United States walked and biked to school, and the number now is 11%. I think that’s a tragedy. We were hoping that things like this will help turn the tide a little bit. Too many kids are being driven to school in their cars. If you’re a kid, you should be out using active transportation, you should be walking and you should be biking.
To find out more, check out Montclair Bike Bus Family Picnic this Friday — details here.
Jaime Bedrin is an adjunct instructor at Montclair State University, where she teaches courses in journalism and media ethics.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the article misstated the percentage of children who walked or biked to school in 1969. That figure is 50%.