Earlier this month, hundreds of children on bicycles, riding together like cavalry regiments on wheels, pedaled to schools across the Truckee Meadows.
They were the vanguards of Bike Month, celebrated annually in May, an observance which encourages residents to forgo their motorized vehicles in favor of two-wheeled locomotion. The health benefits of using human-powered vehicles are no secret, but Bike Month also is a nexus for other related issues, including traffic safety near schools, and reducing pollution and traffic congestion.
“All told, we had more than 600 students on bicycle rides in Washoe County and we reached about 2,000 with our educational materials and safety session,” said MJ Cloud, program director for Safe Routes to School at the Washoe County School District. “We encourage kids to bike and walk to school, rather than asking an adult to drive them, but they make their own choices.”
Cloud cited studies that indicate students who ride bikes to school perform better in their subjects when they get there. And kids who arrive under their own power also help reduce traffic snarls in school zones and the accidents that often accompany them.
School safety issue
“The fewer cars crowding around schools, the less chance a student will be hit by one of them,” she said. “From August to March of last year, 31 kids were hit near schools and if not for the district shutting down (due to COVID-19) in March, there probably would have been more.”
The Safe Routes to School program encourages students to become bicycle commuters. “We as a society, as a community, need to see biking to school as a benefit, not a hardship,” she said. “When they walk and ride bikes, the students meet others along the way, they get together, and there is safety in numbers.”
Bike Month is aimed at getting a similar message about the benefits of biking out to the community. Sponsors include the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance, the Reno Bike Project, Kiwanis Bikes, the Regional Transportation District and the Washoe County Health District.
Signing up businesses
The agencies and groups have teamed up with local businesses and individuals to get more wheels on the road, particularly during regular commutes to and from work or school. They are encouraging everyone to participate in the commuter challenge or to ride bikes while running errands instead of driving cars.
Esmeralda Chavez, health educator at the county health division, said10 businesses so far have signed up for the commuter challenge as teams and individuals. Participants can use the RTC website or download an app from the Google or Apple online stores to keep track of their miles.
Those who log commuter trips in May add to the data base of total miles traveled. At the end of the month, the health district will calculate the reduction in vehicle emissions tied to not making those regular trips in motorized vehicles.
“A lot of employers are getting on board for the commuter challenge,” Chavez said. “There’s still time for both businesses and individuals to sign up.”
Bike route map available
Prospective participants may sign up online, or can take advantage of the program without going through the registration process. At the RTC site, bike riders may create a template for their commutes. RTC also offers a free downloadable bike paths and routes map, in English or Spanish, on its website.
Scott Miklos, trip reduction analyst for RTC, said in addition to being a part of Bike Month, the district’s Smart Trips feature is a year-round challenge that covers “every mode that’s not driving alone. Regular commuters, people who make short trips, those who come here from out of town and anyone who wants to get around without a car can get on the website.”
Miklos noted that bike riding enjoyed a boost in popularity during the pandemic. Local bicycle shops also reported an increase in maintence and repair jobs, which is reflected in a national trend. The RTC’s effort to reduce single-occupant vehicle trips not only reduces the area’s carbon footprint, but also helps reduce traffic congestion.
Avoiding traffic jams
He noted that Northern Nevada has experienced a population boom over the last few years and nearly all of those new residents have cars. “We have to balance the impact of all the people coming into the area,” Miklos said. “The more we get people not to drive by themselves, whether by walking, biking, car-pooling, or by taking the van pool or the bus, the better off we’ll be.”
Technology may someday solve the fossil-fuel pollution dilemma, he said, but even electric- or hydrogen-powered vehicles take up space on the highways.
“Pollution may be done away with eventually, but the congestion issue will still be with us,” he said. “No matter how clean a car is, its still uses the roads. Add 50,000 more people with 50,000 more cars, and that’s more of a load than the roads can handle.”
Activities listed online
Those who want more information about Bike Month, or want to register their companies for the Commuter Challenge, may visit the RTC website or send email to SMiklos@rtcwashoe.com.