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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Polar Pedal program encourages elementary school students to walk, bike

Through the program, students can earn points toward adopting a polar bear for their school

By SHRADDHA JHINGAN city@theaggie.org

On Jan. 28, the City of Davis announced in a news release that the Polar Pedal program organized each year by the Safe Routes to School program will be starting for 2022. Throughout the month of February, elementary school students in the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) will be able to earn points for their school that will go towards adopting a polar bear by walking or biking to school. 

The goal is ultimately to amass enough points to be able to adopt 20 polar bears. This will be done through Polar Bear International, an organization that helps protect polar bears.  One polar bear will be adopted when 500 walking or biking trips are made. In total, the program is aiming to reach 10,000 trips by biking or walking in February.

Safe Routes to School Coordinator Daniela Tavares said that biking or walking reduces the amount of traffic near schools. In order to promote these efforts, there is a group of parents helping out. 

“As the Safe Routes to School Coordinator I am fortunate to have an amazing group of Parent Volunteers at all 8 DJUSD Elementary schools that encourage and support students to walk/bike/roll / even get dropped off a block away and walk to school […], allowing the City of Davis to have less car congestion and traffic in front of each school in the morning,” Tavares said via email. 

To participate in the program, students have to “scan in” upon reaching school using the Active4me program, which they can register for online. The program was developed and donated to schools in Davis by Tim Starback, a resident of the City of Davis, Tavares said. 

Tavares also said that when students reach school and scan in, parents get notified on their devices that their students have safely reached school. The scan can also keep track of mileage, trip quantity and carbon offsets. 

“This program is active at each elementary school site and used to record rack counts at secondary schools,” Tavares said. 

The program is a collaboration between various members and organizations in the local community: A Kaiser Permanente grant partly funded the initiative, Tim Starback developed Active4me and Tara Parker-Essig, who attended UC Davis, designed promotional items for the program such as stickers, pledges, banners and the goal chart for the program. 

Parker-Essig explained that the designs for the program were inspired by sketches from Loretta Moore’s son. Moore is the Street Smarts/Safe Routes to School Program Coordinator for the City of Davis.

Parker-Essig said that the sketches from Moore’s son were incorporated into simplified designs that allow “a way to track students’ progress in adopting polar bears.”

Parker-Essig also used to be a bike mechanic, and thus there were accurate depictions of bikes in the designs, as well as reflective stickers.

Jeffrey Bruchez, the bicycle program coordinator in the Department of Transportation Services, said that there are various benefits to biking in Davis, such as the fact that the city is flat, only around six miles wide and dry for specific seasons.

“Davis is a wonderful place to bicycle for a multitude of reasons, but the single most influential reason is likely that the city (and campus too) was very clever with bike-forward policies which insured that the city was built to be incredibly friendly to bicycling (see the 1977 Bike Plan),” Bruchez said via email. 

The main benefit, however, is being able to enjoy local environments and sceneries from a bike, which can only be matched by being a pedestrian, Bruchez said. Having a bike allows individuals to access nature and other sites that may not be accessible by motorized vehicles.

“A bike affords you access to the numerous greenbelts, quick convenient transportation, and a vehicle which is impervious to road congestion,” Bruchez said. “Yes, we have bike traffic on campus, but on average the slow down you experience in bike congestion only changes the entire journey by seconds, not minutes or hours like you can be delayed in a car. From a car, or a bus, you can’t smell the flowers, watch the birds, and enjoy things like the Arboretum.”

The Polar Pedal program also helps reduce the amount of fossil fuels, Tavares said. By biking or walking instead of driving, students are doing their part to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

“The link to polar bears is direct, because most vehicles burn fossil fuels, which create CO2,” Tavares said. “And the more CO2 in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth will be. Students help by biking and speaking up for a bike friendly community.”

Bruchez said there is a course called CyclingSavvy on Canvas to get people used to biking alongside traffic. Bruchez also noted that many cyclists have been following the things that were taught in the education platform at Aggie Orientation, such as yielding to pedestrians and signaling. In addition to ensuring bikes are properly maintained, having working brakes (which the Bike Barn has been helping with) and locking up bikes correctly, Bruchez said it is important to get bikes registered. He said that registered bikes are more likely to be returned, and though thousands of bikes are stolen every year, only a few hundred are reported.

Ultimately, Tavares said that the Polar Pedal program received such positive recognition that it was showcased on Polar Bear International (PBI)’s website. 

The idea for the program and resources were shared with Safe Routes to School partners in the area. North Natomas also created their own, inspired by the one in Davis, Tavares said.

“We are proud to continue to find innovative solutions to support student health and wellness goals, and to empower students and their families to support global environmental health and sustainability,” Tavares said. 

Written by: Shraddha Jhingan — city@theaggie.org

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