Walking her talk between the View Ridge and Laurelhurst neighborhoods, Ellen Aagaard personifies the successful alternative transportation activist. To celebrate annual International Walk to School Month in October, Ellen shares her passion for biking as family transportation.
Occupation: stay-at-home mom, volunteer
Alma Mater: St. Olaf College, U.C. Berkeley
Degrees: English and Women’s Studies
Commute: 6 to 30 miles
How does cycling fit into your day?
I bike or walk my kids to school every day; our youngest just started kindergarten and just started riding a two wheeler! It’s 1.5 miles from our house in View Ridge to Laurelhurst Elementary, where Kirk and Sylvie go to school; Ben buses to Washington Middle School.
I’m a “bike commuter mom;” I bike to the grocery store, to school, to the zoo, to soccer, to church, to meetings and volunteer gigs around town.
How else is your family involved in cycling?
My husband, Matt [Corwin], cycles 18 miles daily. He started two years ago, as a Bike to Work Month participant. Now he’s totally hooked! He cycle commutes almost everyday, missing only seven or eight days this year.
Matt works in one of Unico’s buildings, which offer many nice bike amenities: showers, bike cages, loaner Breezer bikes; in general, it’s a very supportive culture.
Did you meet Matt cycling?
The first summer we dated, we went on this terrific bike tour in the San Juan Islands. Matt said “if we keep doing this, I’ll fall in love with you.” I thought he meant that he loved cycling, but after we got engaged, Matt confessed that he didn’t really enjoy it, he just liked being with me. We’ve been married 17 years & now we both love to cycle…I love it that the first clothes we put on in the morning are cycling shorts!
How has cycling changed you?
We’ve both lost all of our “baby weight”; Matt lost 30 pounds just by changing his daily commute method!
How did your get your kids involved in biking?
My best cycling present ever was a Burley trailer that my brother and parents gave me for my 35th birthday. I could put the kids in it, get a workout, and go anywhere.
The daily walk or cycle to school was the start of our commitment to active transportation. Ben (13) now cycles independently to soccer, to confirmation, to meet friends.
Some people might consider a car more convenient than biking.
Not if you consider the quality of your transportation time as well as the quantity! The choice to walk or bike together is really a choice for shared time with your child, for shared physical activity, shared accomplishments (riding a two wheeler, learning to cross the street safely), shared conversation.
Kids who receive daily activity do better in school. And you are also improving your child’s health and fitness by incorporating more physical activity into their daily routine.
October 4 is the annual International Walk To School Day; how do you advocate for alternative transportation?
At Laurelhurst Elementary I run a “Safe & Active Routes to School” program, encouraging families to walk and bike to school. Last May our “Bike to School Month,” sponsored by Cascade Bicycle Club, was a raging success!
I volunteer with Cascade’s Education Foundation, fitting helmets & as a “bike ambassador.” Ben has fixed bikes and worked helmet sales as well. I also work with Feet First, a pedestrian advocacy organization, on Safe Routes to School planning and materials, like a brochure I produced called “Take Off on Two Feet to Laurelhurst,” which addresses parents’ three main concerns: time, distance, and safety.
Have your advocacy efforts proved successful?
The percentage of active transportation use at Laurelhurst went up 71%: from about 17% pre-advocacy year to about 29% post-advocacy year. [sidebar?: out of 368 respondents]; from 55 walkers to 69; from 6 bikers to 31, from 80 bus riders to 58; from 227 by car to 161; plus, we saw 23 new carpoolers. We still have 21 or more bikes on our bike racks daily; that’s three times the highest number I counted last year!
Do you have any favorite gear?
I use a Burley Piccolo trailer cycle (3rd wheel) attachment that is a very cost-effective tandem alternative. It really extends the cycling distance for young children who often cannot keep the pace of the captain. It’s also a great way to talk through all the decisions I make as I’m riding.
I ride my mother’s Bianchi, one of their first hybrid models. Ti Cycles outfitted me with my commute gear. Matt commutes on an $800 Jamis. Ben rides a $500 Giant road bike; Kirk has a Trek 24” bike, and Sylvie rides on the Trail-a-Bike or her 16” Mongoose hand-me-down that we converted to a girl’s bike by adding streamers and a basket.
Any recommendations for parents?
If you want to teach your child to cycle safely, you must cycle with them. Children learn more from the way you ride than from the way you talk – be a good role model. Children learn by doing. They need your knowledge and experience to help them ride safely in traffic, negotiate intersections and make safe turns. If you are not confident in your own cycling abilities, take a class, read a book or pamphlet.
You can find a copy of Ellen’s Take Off on Two Feet to Laurelhurst brochure at www.cascade.org
Send comments and nominations for cyclist of the month to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: The Bicycle Alliance of Washington and Feet First have secured a Federal “Transportation Enhancements” grant for $396,000 to assist communities with best practices in Safe Routes To School through 2008 and focusing on communities in the Spokane, Vancouver and Puget Sound regions of Washington State.