Carson Zenner doesn’t need any extra encouragement to ride his bike to school every day.
He’s pretty much always ridden his bike to school, he said, and from his home in East Davis to César Chávez Elementary School, it’s quite a ride — 6.4 miles round-trip, in fact.
As a centrally located magnet school, Chávez draws students from all over Davis, and given the school’s location on busy Anderson Road, all those parents dropping off all those kids can make for some serious congestion. That’s just one of the reasons a concerted effort is under way at the school to get more kids on their bikes. And it looks like it’s working.
Thanks to a $284,000 transportation grant received last year by the city of Davis Street Smarts program, Chávez is among a number of Davis schools participating in the active4.me program, which encourages students to walk or bike to school by tracking their miles logged, gas saved and calories burned and enticing them with prizes to boot.
The scan-and-notify system also gives parents some peace of mind: When kids arrive at school they scan the bar-tag they were given when they signed up for the program. A computer then logs their arrival and immediately sends an email or text message to their parents, letting them know their students have safely arrived at school.
Davis Bicycles! members Tim Starback and Phil Cox created the system several years ago as part of the saveagallon program (since renamed active4.me) and piloted the program at Birch Lane Elementary School. The school subsequently showed increases in the number of students biking or walking to school every day.
With the transportation grant, the Street Smarts program was able to pay for additional scanners and computers for other interested schools. Now, Birch Lane, Chávez, North Davis, Montgomery and Willett elementary schools are all using scan-and-notify systems and reporting positive results. Other elementary schools have expressed interest as well, said Davis Bicycles! member Christal Waters, who has been involved in the program.
But the city and Davis Bicycles! can do only so much to help. Although Street Smarts can provide the equipment and Starback, Cox and Waters assistance, parent volunteers are needed at each school to run the program.
At Chávez, that parent is Caroleen Becker.
Becker had heard about the scan-and-notify program and asked why Chávez didn’t have it. Within weeks, the school did. Now, parent volunteers are stationed at bike racks in front of the school as well as in the back, scanning in students as they arrive. Becker reports the city and active4.me provided everything she needed and got the program up and running.
“They really laid the groundwork for this,” she said.
And the parent response — particularly among parents willing to scan once a week — made it possible, she added.
Just since the program started at Chávez in November, Becker has already seen a difference in her own family: Her son, who was never all that thrilled about biking to school, is much more willing, especially now that he can log on to active4.me and compare his miles to his sister’s.
The possibility of prizes doesn’t hurt either. Thanks to donations from several Davis businesses, Becker has been able to reward participants with locks, bells, baskets and other bike accessories. The computer system selects winners based on how how often they’ve biked to school, or how often they biked on cold days or even rainy days.
“The kids are really jazzed about it,” Becker said. “They come in and say, ‘Wow, I have that many miles.’ ”
Becker plans to keep them jazzed by adding more fun activities throughout the school year.
Noting that students come from all over town, Becker said she wants to challenge students from each region to see who can build the longest train of bikes to school — with North, South, East and West Davis all competing against each other. She’d also like to see parents from each area map out the best routes to school for students.
That would tie in with another goal being funded by the transportation grant.
Street Smarts coordinator Rachel Hartsough said an audit likely will get under way in the spring, involving parents, students, teachers and interested community members, as well as city and Police Department personnel, to physically walk and bike routes to schools in order to create new suggested routes for every school in Davis, as well as to determine what infrastructure changes would improve safety for students who are biking or walking to school.
“We think we can dramatically improve the number of kids who bike to school,” Hartsough said.
Another way Hartsough hopes to improve safety is through the installation over the summer of electronic speed boards near most Davis schools. The boards flash back to drivers the speed at which they are traveling and should serve as reminders to drivers to slow down, Hartsough said.
Speeding has long been the top safety complaint the city receives about drivers near schools, and the California Safe Routes to School program reports that traffic safety is the one of the main reasons children do not walk or bike to school — and with good reason. In 2010 alone, more than 21,000 California schoolchildren were sent to an emergency room and more than 1,500 hospitalized due to pedestrian or bicycle injuries.
But the state program hails Davis Street Smarts as “a success story,” citing bike rodeos at elementary schools where children learn safety tips and get their bikes checked and helmets fitted; the annual Loopalooza, a fun way to introduce families to the city’s bike loop and safe routes to school; and the ever-expanding scan-and-notify system.
All of those efforts, the state program says, make Davis a model for communities everywhere.
For more information on the Street Smarts program and ongoing efforts, visit http://street-smarts.cityofdavis.org or contact Hartsough at [email protected] or 530-757-5640. Learn more about scan-and-notify at http://www.active4.me.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy