Roosevelt High School took on the Transportation Challenge set up by Fresno State and USGBC Central California this Spring and worked on the question: How can we get more students to bike to school? As students, we noticed that only a very small percentage of our staff and students ride their bike to school. While we set out to answer a larger, solution-based question, we realized we first needed to identify the barriers that prevent more people from cycling.
We used our knowledge of Roosevelt’s surrounding geography and student body population to make predictions about what would impede students from biking to school. We thought about how traffic heavy the intersection at our school was, our own hesitations with the safety of our neighborhoods and the safety of parked bikes at school. Some of our own members know first hand that people’s distance from school is a factor that stops many from biking to school; especially because a lot of us choose to come to Roosevelt because of the School of the Arts magnet program. Another one of our members shared that he didn’t know how to ride a bike; we hadn’t even discussed the most basic of obstacles: access to a bike itself and knowing how to ride in the first place.
We brainstormed some solutions like working with local bike shops to pass out bikes and helmets, giving out alarms and locks for students that park their bikes at school, and calling on city government to expand bike lanes in our area. We recognized that while our solutions looked great, they were pretty big projects to take on.
We needed to engage with our Roosevelt community. We figured the best way to start the conversation was with a survey. We sent it out to students and teachers, and the results gave us insight into what Roosevelt students' relationship is with biking.
The results of the survey indicated that almost half of the population has never ridden a bike, and almost 75% had never ridden a bike to school before. People pointed to distance, lack of protected space, and lack of access to bikes as the most common reasons for their lack of riding.
Seeing as it was already the end of April, we knew as a group we didn’t have the time to solve these big-scale, long-term problems, but rather we needed to come up with something we could do now.
After some back-and-forth we came up with the idea of an after school Bike to School event for the Bike to School month of May where we would bike from the neighborhood across the way all the way to City Hall and we would integrate some of our previous solutions ideas like bike alarms, locks, lights, and helmets as give-aways. We got helmets donated from BPAC to give out to those in need of one, and lights from Rubbersole.
On the day of the Bike to School event, we set up a helmet decorating and light attachment station. A crowd of teachers, students, and community members much larger than we expected formed and our teacher called us onstage to speak. After some nervous shifting and awkward silence due to stage fright, our members spoke on the theme “Why We Ride.” They mentioned the nostalgia biking holds as it was something they did to bond with family members or how good it feels to ride freely with the wind blowing through your hair.
Finally, the time to ride came. We jumped on our bikes and started on route to the neighborhood across from our school. We listened to the music playing from my teacher’s speaker and we finally got to have conversations with people we only ever saw through a Zoom screen.
We continued the route into busier streets, and even got to use a new protected bike lane on our way to city hall. As a vulnerable cyclist, you are highly aware of the spaces around you, and we noticed when cars felt a little too close to us or when barricades between the streets and bike lanes made us feel so much safer.
This experience taught us how valuable time outdoors is and how valuable it is to create events (and streets!) that bring people together. This is why bike riding proved to not only be impactful as a mode of climate action, but as a source of happiness and communal peace.