Transforming the School Commute: PSU Researchers Explore the Impact of Bike Buses

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Sam Balto and the Alameda Elementary School Bike Bus. Photo by Jonathan Maus, BikePortland

The trip to and from school is made by nearly every child in Oregon every school day. Bike and walk buses, organized groups of school children, parents, and ride/walk leaders, seek to encourage biking and walking to school. A new research project at Portland State University's Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) will gather information on bike buses nationwide, inspired by the success of Sam Balto's bike bus initiative at Alameda Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.

Balto, a physical education teacher, catapulted into the limelight in 2022 after establishing a weekly bike bus involving over 100 students commuting to school on two wheels. Its success and popularity prompted a broader initiative to understand and promote the benefits of bike and walk buses across the United States.

Researchers John MacArthur and Nathan McNeil, along with Evan Howington, a student in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program at PSU, aim to gather comprehensive information on existing bike bus programs nationwide, with plans to include information on walk buses in the near future. They'll collect information about bike buses (what they are, where they are, how they work) and develop a library of references to them in local, national and international media. In the first phase of the research, they plan to launch a data collection tool to allow volunteers to record the number of students and parents riding on a specific day. 

The project will also use surveys and interviews to document the experiences of parents and children participating in bike buses in the Portland area, including stated motivations, perceived benefits, and challenges.

Aside from mitigating some of the negative effects of parents driving kids to school (including traffic congestion in school zones, increased air pollution, and safety risks), bike and walk buses provide benefits to kids. Physical activity has been associated with improved academics and behavior, and offers potential for positive social interactions, and learning about bicycling, traffic safety and navigating their communities. 

Learn more about the project, Exploring Bike Bus Programs in the United States.

Portland State University's Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) is home to the U.S. DOT funded National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation (IBPI), PORTAL, BikePed Portal and other transportation grants and programs. We produce impactful research and tools for transportation decision makers, expand the diversity and capacity of the workforce, and engage students and professionals through education and participation in research.

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