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Geared up: Calgary pilot program pedaled to city high schoolers

Bike Calgary is hoping to make biking to school a student trend this winter at E.P. Scarlett High school.

On Tuesday, Bike Calgary announced the Bike to School pilot project at E.P. Scarlett.

According to project lead Laura Shutiak, just 10 of E.P. Scarlett’s more than 1,500 students ride a bike to school regularly, despite 85 per cent of them owning a bike. Bike to School aims to increase that tenfold, to 100, by spring.

Shutiak, the school council chair at E.P. Scarlett, said she had been thinking about the idea since her now-university-aged son could not safely bike to school in Grade 3.

But she didn’t find an opportunity to see it through until the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I realized that high schools were a real opportunity, because there literally wasn’t anything being done on this in this realm at high school,” Shutiak said.

Give us school credit, we’ll give it a shot

A Zoom call with a leadership class at E.P. Scarlett encouraged her, with the students showing enthusiasm and offering suggestions. A student survey showed almost 30 per cent would consider riding to school; 60 per cent if they could get credit in physical education.

“It’s basically the kids telling us what the boundaries are and us breaking them down,” Shutiak said.

Apart from her connections there, E.P. Scarlett made an ideal target because of its lack of bike infrastructure. The single main access road to the school makes for congested traffic.

However, a more pressing issue was just a single bike rack at the school. Bike to School made this its first order of business, with two volunteers adding loaner bike racks.

A donated container from the C-Can Store will also provide weatherproof secure storage for the approximately 30 bikes donated by Two Wheel View and others.

“That’s the problem at almost every school, that there’s not a lot of secure places to put them,” Shutiak said.

“I didn’t want to encourage kids to ride their bikes, until I got the bike racks.”

This meant the launch had to be delayed until winter — not exactly prime cycling season.

But Shutiak and Bike Calgary, who became “instant partners” when she pitched the idea, are undeterred.

Shutiak hopes to eventually expand the program to all high schools in Calgary.

Filling 5A gaps outside the downtown

For Bike Calgary president Pete Spearing, Bike to School “complements” their effort to fill biking infrastructure gaps outside downtown via the 5A Network Phase 1 plan — something Bike Calgary will be “heavily advocating” during the City’s budget debate this week.

A volunteer will examine the “critically important” infrastructure surrounding the school, Spearing said. The student survey revealed that many students living within biking distance didn’t know which route to take.

“Obviously we need to provide routes for it, but fundamentally this is geared around providing the bike,” Spearing said.

If the pilot program succeeds, Bike to School will need further grant money, having spent “less than $200” so far, according to Shutiak. Even at this early stage, the project is looking at several different granting agencies.

“Parents are just crazy, super supportive…I think it could make a huge difference to those kids, their mental health, their physical health,” Shutiak said.

“That’s a lot of car traffic that is down, a lot of kids that aren’t on buses and catching or spreading COVID.”