Bike to School Project inspires new cyclists

Councillor Mike Layton speaks to students during the Bike to School Project's youth leadership camp field trip to City Hall.

Bike to School Project leadership camp for youth inspires new cyclists and advocates

Story by Tammy Thorne

Photos by David Keogh

On March 29, 2014, student leaders from five Toronto high schools and one middle school gathered for a full morning of workshops and presentations, followed by a trip in the afternoon to meet Councilllor Mike Layton and learn about cycling initiatives at City Hall. The Bike to School Project organized the special Youth Leadership Camp to help youth start up bike clubs or programs at their schools.

In year one, the Bike to School Project worked with Harbord, Jarvis, and Central Commerce Collegiate Institutes. This year, the project will add Central Technical and Western Technical-Commercial Schools, and Greenwood Secondary School, with one more school yet to be determined (likely St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School.) The plan is to expand to 16 schools by spring 2015.

The Bike to School Project is a collaborative initiative of CultureLink Settlement Services, Cycle Toronto, the Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank, and Evergreen. It began in 2013 with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation that ends in 2016.

As Kristin Schwartz, Bike to School Project coordinator said, “Freedom and independence – these are the benefits of cycling which I find resonate most with young people. This project gives more youth a chance to experience these benefits, while also teaching them the urban cycling skills they need to be safer on the road. It’s my hope that we are nurturing a vibrant youth bike culture which will develop far beyond the specific schools we’re working in today.”

Indeed, the youth dandyhorse got to interview on the day of the leadership camp were very impressive in their their knowledge of cycling and urban issues. I was left with the feeling that the future is bright. Just like the rest of the cycling population, these young cyclists came in all forms. Some enjoyed road racing and cycling sports, while others like fun family rides in parks and along trails, while many more did short urban rides from home to school and back again. Imagine my delight when I discovered that some were already advocating for better cycling conditions too! Sarah, a student from Harbord Collegiate Institute said they needed more bike racks at their school, and that would be one of the things that their bike club would advocate for in the coming year.

Richard, also at Harbord CI, said he has come to learn "you don’t need to be a lobbyist to make a difference, you can influence politicians yourself, just by talking to them." Awesome! He said he was looking forward to the group ride and tour around City Hall that afternoon.

Richard and Sarah, bike leaders from Harbord CI, above.

Eli and Devon from Central Commerce Collegiate Institute made practical points. Devon said, “It’s cheap and convenient. I get to school faster.” And Eli said, “You can save a lot of money – especially if you know how to fix your own bike.” Both Eli and Devon have high praise for the build-a-bike program at their school. (You can read about their bike repair program on the dandyBLOG here.) “I didn’t have a bike before this program came to our school,” Devon said, and Eli wants to build up a second bike now; a faster road bike.

Eli and Devon from Central Commerce CI and Avigail from John English middle school, above.

Ishmael and Matt from Western Tech, one of the new schools in the Bike to School Project, both enjoy the leadership aspect of the program, but say you need courage to bike to school, and it helps if you aren’t the only one doing it. Ishmael enjoys watching the Tour de France and other pro cycling events and thinks school groups like the mountain bike team and events like Bike to School Day during Bike Month would help bring more cyclists to his school.

Matt and Ishmael from Western Technical collegiate, above.

Students Zac and Tess totally represented for Central Tech, below, but I'm sorry I didn't get to interview them. Good luck to all of the students in expanding their bike clubs!

Central Tech students Zac and Tess and project coordinator, Kristin Schwartz, above.

Wall of pedalling pledges.

All of the students made a commitment towards cycling, wrote it down, and put it on the wall. Making personal pledges, along with plans to expand their school bike clubs, got everyone in the right frame of mind for a beautiful ride in the sunshine to City Hall. It was an inspiring jam-packed morning for everyone.

Kristin Schwartz leads the way with the Bike to School Project gang.

Riding down St. George Street en route to City Hall.

The students either biked or took the TTC to City Hall where they met bike-friendly City Councillor Mike Layton who shared some positive vibes with the youth bike champions and gave them some more ideas on how to get involved.

“The Youth Leadership Bike champions were knowledgeable and excited to learn about how to improve cycling in Toronto. They were excited to be empowered in the decision making process at City Hall,” Layton said, adding that it is important to encourage young people to engage in making change. “Every councillor could be reaching out to young people to empower them.”

“We need the next generation to be knowledgeable and empowered to make change, he said. “Cycling is a convenient, inexpensive and an environmentally friendly form of transportation. When young people fall in love with cycling, it stays with them for life. This passion needs to feed advocacy in our city.”

The Toronto District School Board has declared Monday, May 26, 2014, Bike to School Day. This coincides with Bike to Work Day, which launches Bike Month in Toronto.

The whole gang.

Having fun with bikes.

Congratulations to Cycle Toronto and Culturelink for executing such a great initiative! Let's hope it will expand and continue to be funded so that more and more students can get involved in their community and get on bikes. Just like Toronto's Chief Medical Officer of Health, these students know that bikes are the way of the future. Bravo!

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Our upcoming bike plan election issue of dandyhorse (due in June) will include a special "Bike to School" Bike Spotting with parents and kids who bike to school.

Do you encourage your children to bike to school? Share your story and photo with us a - email bikespotting@dandyhorsemagazine.com with a photo and tell us why you chose to bike to school and we'll publish it on dandyhorsemagazine.com!

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Central Commerce's popular build a bike program

Charlies Freewheels: Youth master mechanics

Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank: Mapping biking in Toronto

Cycle Toronto 2014 AGM recap

 

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