Bicycle Diaries: Oz freewheels into the future

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30.10.06

Oz freewheels into the future

Last week, Steve Bracks, the Premier of Victoria, Australia committed $4 million to promote biking among the state's 34,000 elementary students. The most innovative aspect of the initiative is a bike give-away.

As the students enter high school, they will recieve new bikes. And those from disadvantaged communities will recieve the first 4000 bikes. The premier hopes this will encourage them to continue riding after they've outgrown their childhood bikes.

The government will spend an additional $72 million over the next 10 years to expand bike paths as well as build bike sheds at schools. Rather than traffic issues, most parents are concerned with the security of their children's expensive bikes. But the $12,000 price tag for a typical bike shed is well beyond the means of most schools.

With a recent $4 million government grant, Bicycle Victoria, a local bike advocacy group, is developing programs to get young people on bikes. Over the next four years, the Ride2School campaign will work with schools to specifically target parents who drive their children to and from school. In addition to bike sheds, it will identify quiet neighborhood routes as well as teach children how to ride and look after their bikes.

Schools are organizing Bike2School Days. At Cambridge Primary, for example, 54% of the student body either biked or walked on 13 September. Three others are conducting Hands Up surveys on the first school day of each month. According to Bicycle Victoria,
Students at our three model schools are being asked by their teachers ... to put their 'hands-up' if they rode, walked or came by car to school. The results are then tallied and faxed to the Ride2School team.

Regular monitoring has been shown to hasten behaviour change, because it helps maintain the focus on continual improvement. Teachers have told us that students enjoy the process of being surveyed.

We are currently developing a counter on our website which will enable students and teachers to log-on and upload their results on-line. They will then be able to compare their results with earlier achievements as well as see how they compare to other schools across the state.
I love this type of social action. Local governments supply the funds and non-profits provide the tools so that schools and parents can improve the life of their communities. What else can I write except that I wish SteveBracks would run for Governor of Illinois!

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