Every day, I join 2,500 other Seattle public school students who ride a bike to school.
I’m a junior at Ballard High School and have been biking to school since elementary school. Every year my PE teacher, Mr. Pule, would host bike week, a week where my friends and I would learn to ride around our neighborhoods safely. We learned how to signal where we were going, how to check for cars behind us, and to make sure our helmets were fastened correctly. These lessons proved handy as biking became a regular part of our lives.
Most days after class, my friends and I would ride our bikes around the expansive blacktop directly next to our school’s playground. We would do little tricks and zoom around in circles with massive smiles on our faces, dreading when we would have to abandon our charades and go home. These childhood shenanigans shaped my love of bikes that I hold to this day.
When I was younger, I never thought too deeply about where I parked my bike. In elementary school I locked my bike to the chain-link fence that surrounded the building. Now that I am older and the bike I ride is more expensive than the 20-inch kids bike my dad bought off Craigslist, I am more invested in not having it get stolen. In a 2019 survey conducted by the Seattle Department of Transportation, 45% of respondents said that biking to school was not an option, citing a lack of bike racks and a worry of theft, both of which are issues I have encountered.
Seattle municipal code requires schools to provide four bike parking spots per classroom. However, a 2018 study by SDOT found that at least two-thirds of Seattle public schools don’t meet those requirements, and three schools — Franklin High School, Emerson Elementary and Van Asselt Elementary — didn’t just not meet the code, but had no bike racks at all. I have a friend who goes to Franklin and is forced to rent a bike locker at the nearby Mount Baker light-rail station.
This lack of bike racks is also concerning because it ties into the racial inequalities that are often found in any type of infrastructure in this city. SDOT’s study found that the number of bike racks a school has can be tied to the number of students from that school who live in a community of color. It found that the more diverse a school’s student body is, the fewer bike racks it has. This is concerning because students of color are already less likely to walk or bike to school than their white counterparts.
Biking and other forms of exercise are known to improve our moods, boost creativity, and generally be good for our cardiovascular fitness and stamina. On top of that, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, students who walk or bike one or more miles to school are more likely to get their 60 minutes of recommended daily exercise, perform better academically, and are less likely to be categorized as chronically absent.
Beyond being personally rewarding, commuting by bike continues to get easier. Most of Seattle’s neighborhoods contain at least a little bit of cycling infrastructure, and SDOT does a fair job of continuing to build more. For students especially, the Move Seattle levy that created funding for a lot of the biking and pedestrian infrastructure we have today mandated that each public school get a Safe Routes to School engineering improvement. Most Seattle public schools now have a bike route within a couple of blocks.
With SDOT doing its part to make biking to school easier for students, it’s time for schools to do their part as well. Seattle Public Schools should install new bike racks at the front doors of every school under its purview until each school meets modern municipal code. Students should not have to wait until their school is remodeled to have access to the number of bike racks that they need to treat cycling as not only a viable but better way to get to school. My bike ride to school every morning puts me in the correct mindset to become an academic weapon, and every other student deserves to come to school with that mindset as well.
Editor’s note: For this seventh year of The Seattle Times Student Voices project, we’ve invited eight Washington teens and young adults to detail their experiences and suggest how schools can better support students in addressing the barriers and obstacles youth face. This is the second essay in the series. To read more about the authors and find their essays as they’re published, visit st.news/studentvoices2023.