"A Huge Morale Boost:" Seattle Resumes Nation’s Largest Public School Bike Education Program
Within three years, 25,000 Seattle students annually will learn how to safely ride a bike in the Let’s Go elementary school and Let’s Go Further middle school curriculums thanks to a partnership between Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Photo courtesy Seattle Public Schools.
The nation’s largest public school bicycling and walking safety curriculum resumes in-person lessons this week in Seattle following a 19-month pause due to COVID-19. The Let’s Go Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety program will teach bicycling and walking safety skills to about 10,000 elementary and middle school students during this academic year--and expand each year to reach up to 25,000 students in the 2024-25 academic year.
“The resumption of Let’s Go is a huge morale boost. As a cycling educator and parent of two SPS students, getting Let’s Go back to school is an important milestone in our region’s response to the pandemic,” says Stephen Rowley, Cascade’s education director. “Learning to ride a bike and cross the street safely is a formative experience in a child’s life. We are overjoyed to be resuming this incredibly popular program at a time when interest in bicycling and outdoor activity is booming.”
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has renewed a five-year-contract with Cascade Bicycle Club to provide the bikes, helmets, and Let’s Go teaching materials thanks to $2.1 million in funding from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
Cascade Bicycle Club delivered the first trailer of bicycles to Louisa Boren STEM K-8 School in West Seattle, as well as the Beacon Hill and Maple Elementary schools on Tuesday (Nov. 9). Next Tuesday (Nov. 16), Cascade Bicycle Club will deliver the next batch of bikes to Thornton Creek and Decatur Elementary schools.
Education Director Stephen Rowley shows the media some Let's Go teaching materials while dropping off a trailer of bikes at Louisa Boren school on Tuesday.
“Along with reading, writing, math and science, our mission is to provide students with the content knowledge that develops active lifestyles and provides skills that lead to a lifetime of health and happiness. We are educating the whole child,” says Lori S. Dunn, Seattle Public Schools manager of physical education and health literacy. “Let’s Go is especially impactful for students who would not otherwise have access to bicycles. It’s an equity initiative as well as foundational education and a life skills program.”
In addition to its health and educational benefits, Let’s Go addresses Mayor Jenny Durkin’s climate and clean transportation goals. Seattle plans to reduce its transportation carbon emissions 82 percent by 2030. SDOT’s investment in Let's Go and Let's Go Further is part of a larger strategy to safeguard families as they travel to school. SDOT’s Safe Routes to School program built about 30 road safety improvements near schools in 2020 and 2021, in addition to the major safety investments that come with larger paving projects like new and upgraded bike routes to Louisa Boren STEM K-8 School built this year as part of the Delridge paving project. SDOT also offers grants up to $1000 for schools, PTAs and community groups to support and encourage kids to walk and bike to school, and recently expanded the ORCA Opportunity program to provide free ORCA cards to all Seattle public middle and high school students.
“We know that kids who walk, bike, and bus become adults who walk, bike, and bus. By teaching schoolchildren the joys and health benefits of safe walking and biking, we are teaching our youngsters to make active transportation a lifelong passion that reduces our city’s carbon footprint, cleans our air, and boosts mass transit use,” says Sam Zimbabwe, Seattle Department of Transportation director. “This program is a part of our larger Safe Routes to Schools program which builds safety improvements near schools throughout Seattle, and is also a key part of our Vision Zero strategy to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries.”
In addition to the physical fundamentals of helmet safety, balancing, steering, pedaling, and stopping, Let’s Go teaches kids the rules of safe and courteous riding along with skills to cross a street at intersections.Cascade trains physical education teachers to deliver the curriculum and provides each school with a fleet of 30 bikes, helmets, and instructional materials. Let’s Go provides special training for children with disabilities by partnering with the Outdoors for All Foundation, a nonprofit that offers adaptive cycles with three or four wheels as well as hand-crank cycles for those with limited or no leg movement.
Let's Go Manager AJ Benaltabe helps out with the bike drop off at Louisa Boren school in West Seattle.
Seattle has offered the Let’s Go curriculum to elementary school students since 2015. The program went virtual in 2020 due to COVID-19, and is now returning to in-person learning. The program which currently reaches 3rd to 5th grade students will also expand into middle schools with a more expansive six-year Let’s Go Further curriculum lasting through the 8th grade. “We are creating an age-appropriate program for middle schools that builds on the lessons learned in Let’s Go to provide these older students with the skills needed to travel throughout the city car-free,” Rowley says.
In 2019, more than 20,000 students, across four regional school districts, were taught lessons in how to bike and walk safely. Within three years, Cascade expects to be offering the Let’s Go and Let’s Go Further curriculums to about 25,000 students annually in Seattle.