It was once the norm for children to bike around their neighborhoods and to school. Biking provided independence for growing kids while giving them physical activity and access to social networks. In 1969, 50% of kids walked or biked to school. But by 2009, just 13% did.
We piloted our Shifting Gears program to change that. Shifting Gears works by providing second graders in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) with bicycle safety training during the school day.
During our pilot year, we reached 5% of second graders with the training. In year two, we more than doubled the number of schools, from five to nine, reaching 13% of second graders. Also in the second year, we connected our Bike Champions program with Shifting Gears, in order to expand the circle of influence of Shifting Gears beyond school walls and into surrounding communities.
As a result, parents have become strong proponents of safe streets for all. By instilling an awareness of bicycling and traffic safety at a formative age, we can improve children’s health outcomes, create a lifelong love of being active, and improve communities through cleaner environments and safer streets.
Cars and trucks are one of the leading causes of air pollution. Parents driving to school represent approximately 15% of rush hour traffic. By equipping kids with bike safety skills, more children can participate in sustainable, carbon-neutral commutes, whether independently or alongside their families. Air pollution from cars is detrimental to community health, contributing to asthma, heart disease, and even birth defects. What's more, car emissions add to the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Oil and gasoline runoff from roads harms our natural waterways.
Shifting Gears is helping to create the next generation of bike riders, to have a positive effect on the environment over their lifetimes.
All children benefit from increased levels of physical activity. Shifting Gears partners with elementary schools that are taking action to combat health disparities in their school communities. By incorporating biking into the school day, the program benefits children’s mental health and sets them up for success in learning. According to the Safe Routes to School Partnership, exercise increases learning and memory in children, and those who face the greatest barriers to learning are those who stand to achieve the most. Recent studies are also finding that students diagnosed with ADHD can benefit from bicycling, as riding shifts brain activity patterns, resulting in longer attention spans.
This program is inspired by the work of the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Through Shifting Gears, we've discovered that once children begin biking, parents are increasingly interested in how they can improve the safety of streets in their communities.
“I have 651 reasons to support a safer Cascade Rd. and they are sitting in their classrooms @APSTAGAcademy” - Wykeisha Howe [Community advocate, TAG mom, PTA officer District 10, Atlanta Bike Champion] #respectcascade #transportationcommittee— AtlantaBikeCoalition (@atlantabike) May 15, 2019
Between 2012-2015, 44 percent of bicycle crashes and 53 percent of pedestrian crashes occurred within 0.5 miles of a school in Atlanta. In addition, pedestrian injuries and fatalities across Georgia are on the rise, with a 40 percent increase in the past two years. Programs supporting safe routes to schools have been shown to drastically improve safety through measures like traffic calming, student education, and infrastructure improvements.
The Shifting Gears program design supports Atlanta Public Schools' Health and Wellness programming, and the curriculum is aligned with Georgia's Performance Standards and Atlanta Public Schools curriculum guidelines.
We collaborated with the Atlanta Regional Commission and Partnerships to Improve Community Health to create a policy brief with recommendations that support healthy, active kids and schools. You can read it here: APS transportation policy brief.
Pilot schools (4): Thomasville Heights, Benteen, Gideons, and Dunbar Elementary Schools
Year 2 schools (5): Barack & Michelle Obama Academy, The Kindezi School at Old Fourth Ward, Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy Elementary School, Finch Elementary School, and Peyton Forest Elementary School
This program would not be possible without the vision and partnership of Atlanta Public Schools and The Office of Partnerships and Development!
We're also very grateful to Washington, D.C. Public Schools for their generosity of spirit and willingness to share resources and lessons learned.
Free Bikes 4 Kidz and Bearings Bike Shop are two nonprofits collaborating with us on this program to provide the bikes we use for training. Free Bikes 4 Kidz is a nonprofit organization geared toward helping all kids ride into a happier, healthier childhood by providing bikes to those most in need. Bearings Bike Shop is a youth development organization where kids in Atlanta can earn and maintain a bicycle while developing the skills and character essential to success in adulthood.
Supported by the TransFormation Alliance and Southeast Enterprise Community Partners, The Mary Alice and Bennett Brown Foundation, the Wells Fargo Foundation, and the Solstice Foundation.
In order to continue to grow this lean and impactful program, we welcome contributions to help provide all Atlanta second grade students with bike safety education. Please contact us for details.