By RACHAEL LONG
Brentwoodians will have the chance to celebrate National Bike to School Day on May 8 as Bike Walk Brentwood members plan to lead groups from several neighborhoods.
Bike Walk Brentwood is a chapter of Bike Walk Tennessee, an organization with a mission to advocate for better biking and walking in Tennessee; to serve as a statewide voice to advance public policy that improves economic development, health equity and quality of life; and to connect and educate members and constituents to create regional, statewide and national efforts that support biking and walking in Tennessee.
Bike Walk Brentwood Chairman Richard Hunter says Bike to School Day is just another way to increase the organization’s visibility in the local community.
Hunter was vice-chair of the City of Brentwood’s Bike and Pedestrian Ad Hoc Committee, created in June 2015, to provide the City Commissioners with recommendations for improvement of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
One of the results of the committee’s report in the short-term, Hunter said, was a focus on the improvement of walking and biking safety around Brentwood’s elementary and middle schools.
The City of Brentwood has, in its proposed Capital Improvements Plan for the next six fiscal years, allotted $2,940,000 for the extension of off-road bikeways, bike lanes and sidewalks in the city to connect parks, neighborhoods, schools and more.
While the city works toward connectivity, Hunter says Bike Walk Brentwood also is working toward improving the bike-ability and walkability to and from school.
“Everybody can kind of get on board that idea that [for] our school aged children, we can reduce traffic, they can be getting more exercise, they can have more fun if they’re able to safely walk and bike to school,” Hunter said.
Bike Walk Brentwood will incorporate what’s called a bike train, where a parent will be the “engine” of the train and another parent will be the “caboose.” The kids, meanwhile, form a single-file line in the middle and ride to school.
“You kind of go around the neighborhood and collect kids on the train, and you safely help them navigate and ride to school,” Hunter said. “Then the reverse happens after school. A couple of parents show back up at school, get all the kids and navigate them back home.”
In situations where walking is a better method of transportation, Hunter says a “walking school bus” is an alternate option to the bike train. The idea behind this option is similar, with a parent in front and behind the walkers for safety.
The big idea for May 8, Hunter said, is to organize a group of member-led bike trains in several neighborhoods and map routes to Brentwood Middle School. The organization already has a few bike train leaders for the Belle Rive, Meadowlake, River Oaks and Wildwood neighborhoods.
Hunter said the organization would also like to organize a route to Scales Elementary, but said a walking school bus might be a better option for the nearby “hilly” neighborhoods.
When listing reasons behind the cultivation of a habitual community of students who bike or walk to school, Hunter said the benefits go beyond personal health.
“There’s the health benefits of just a healthy lifestyle of activity, getting out and getting a little exercise while you’re going to and from school. There’s the friendships that you make, as well, in your area neighborhoods [from] riding to school together,” Hunter said. “And then, today, there’s the traffic impact that we can have … any principal will tell you that they would love to have a bike rack problem.”
Aside from its health and social benefits, Hunter said a big reason Brentwood residents should participate in Bike to School day is to help keep the message of improving connectivity alive in the community.
“[We want to] continue to keep the priority and the message at the forefront of our city leadership that this needs to be a priority to allow our kids designed school areas where we can let them safely walk and bike to school,” Hunter said.
And as for the future, Bike Walk Brentwood is already working on the plans for the 2020 Bike to School Day.
“We intend to really make this one of our primary focus areas and expand to all of Brentwood, with a lot of coordination planned for next year for all Brentwood elementary and middle schools,” Hunter said. “Nothing is stopping any group of parents from doing that today, but that’s really going to be a focus of ours.”