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This Austin Community's 'Bike Train' Means Safety in Numbers

Kate McGee, KUT News

When you drive around Austin, it's hard not to notice the growing number of cyclists next to your car.

May is National Bike Month, which has only increased the number of commuters on two-wheels. As part of National Bike Month, Friday is Bike to Work Day and it's also Texas Bike to School Day. National Walk and Bike to School day was last week.

Cycling enthusiasts encourage people to ride bikes to work and school. They talk about bike safety and hand out bike lights and helmets.  But for some students at Brentwood Elementary, biking to school is a tradition that occurs beyond May.

Two years ago, Greg Houston started a Bike Train to his daughters' school, Brentwood Elementary. He and his wife Rachel bike with their two daughters, Miriam and Hannah, everyday. Miriam is a second grader at Brentwood Elementary and Hannah is a sixth grader at Lamar Middle School.

They leave their house around 7:15 a.m., and the four of them head towards Brentwood Elementary. There are designated stops along the route where kids can wait and join the line of bikers to school.  

“Turn your lights on," Houston shouts as Miriam and Hannah pedal out of the driveway. "We try to promote riding with lights on. At this time of day, it’s hard for cars to see kids. The more visible you are, the better.”

The Houston's are the first leg of a neighborhood bike train. Houston wants his daughters to become better cyclists.

“It forms this bond, this community between the kids," Houston says. "They learn that it’s safe, how to look for cars, how to ride in a group, and helps them when they get to school, because their minds are alert, because they’ve already been active before they’ve started the day.”

Houston leads the pack as some kids join the bike train. He encourages the kids to stay together: "Alright, keep it up. You’re almost there! Good job!," he says as he rings his bike bell, alerting drivers and pedestrians of the oncoming bike traffic.

Halfway to school, the Houstons meet up with the Batson family. Sandy Batson says physical exercise is just as important as what students are learning in the classroom:

“I think it’s really important for parents to supplement exercise and physical activity in any way you can, because they’re not getting those same structure and social play in school," Batson says.

Last week, Grandview Hills elementary school parent, Erin Krolecki, organized a bike ride from her neighborhood to school for National Bike Day. The kids have to cross a highway, so they can't ride to school often.  When they arrived to school, they were excited, and say they want to do it again.

Greg Houston says the bike train’s success depends on the community.

“The thing about it is nobody is the owner. Yes, I got the idea and I got it started, but without all these people, it doesn’t work," Houston says.

Houston says he would like to expand the bike train model to other communities in the area. 

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