Megan Ramey loves the idea of “free-range” kids (and parents). You know, folks who spend time outdoors, playing, riding, walking, visiting, hanging out in the neighborhood.
So when Principal Kelly Beard of May Street Elementary in Hood River asked if she’d help organize a bike parade for the 2020 International Walk and Roll to School Day – that was when there were no children in schools because they were all learning from home – she said “Yes!”
Ramey is the mobility safety coordinator for the non-profit Anson’s Bike Buddies in Hood River, an organization that distributes bicycles to families in need. She also volunteers as the Active Transportation liaison with the Oregon Department of Transportation’s community advisory group in the Portland metro area, the Region 1 Area Commission on Transportation. She has a busy family and is an involved parent. She calls herself a “transportation nerd” and now, “the crazy bike lady.”
Creating successes in a pandemic
Ramey organized that bike parade in 2020, where a large contingent of elementary school children, their parents and teachers, met outside the school, waving at one another, visiting (socially distant) and simply connecting after months apart.
“It was such an emotional, almost tearful, experience,” Ramey said. “The kids were so excited to see each other and their teachers; the teachers were excited to see everyone. It left such an amazing impression on everyone.”
It wasn’t a surprise then when, a few months later in April 2021, Principal Beard and Ramey met again – to tackle something bigger. With school coming back in person, would Ramey help with a more permanent effort?
Soon, two bike trains and a walking bus were born. Parents volunteer to meet children at points away from the school to reduce congestion at the school itself, and then they chaperone them as they walk or roll.
“The students wake up their bodies, get the wiggles out and clear their brains before going to class, and on the way home, they trade stories, laugh, and make plans to play together,” Ramey wrote in an article for the Hood River News recently.
These alternatives to driving worked all spring and then picked back up again this fall. Ramey received one of ODOT’s pedestrian safety grants so the team could increase safety around the school. There’s a regular group of youngsters that bike and walk every day, rain or shine. For International Walk and Bike to School Day on Oct. 5, more than 150 May Street students joined the effort. And Ramey went a step further on that day, too, demonstrating what’s known as a “school street.”
“We put plastic barriers and cones at key streets to restrict through-vehicles, and volunteers moved cones for residents and teachers to get in and out,” Ramey said, describing what basically is a closed street for two brief periods of a day: when children are arriving and when they are leaving. “Parents who dropped their kids off by vehicle, pulled up to the barriers, their kids got out and walked down the vehicle free street, which is in line with why parents drop-off their kids in front of the school in the first place, so they don’t get hit by a car. By removing that perceived danger, parents felt safe dropping off their kids a block away. The result was a friction-free, joy-filled, and much safer way for students to access the walking and biking entrance to school.”
And the feedback was all positive.
A safer outdoor future
Ramey’s interest in being outdoors and encouraging others to do the same came from her childhood experiences as well as when it was time to show her own daughter the joys of riding. Ramey lived in Boston at the time and would place her 6-month-old in a car seat that was latched into a Burley trailer behind her bike and then she would go about her day. She’s thrilled to share her interests with others.
“I now own the ‘crazy bike lady of town’ label,” Ramey wrote. “My passion is based in bringing back human-centered streets, and the resulting community well-being and resilience.”
Recently, Ramey volunteered to teach middle-school gym students some real-world bicycling lessons and found that six students in the class didn’t know how to ride. Through Anson’s, she was able to get four bikes into some very appreciative hands.
Next up, she’s working on curriculum for 4th and 5th graders around walking and rolling safely. She’s also helping with the school district’s application for Safe Routes to School funding, which goes to the city council for approval this fall. And then there’s the community itself: volunteers, parents, school employees, business owners – she’s heard a lot of good things.
“This community has rallied around what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Ramey. “It really does take a village.” For example, she’d just learned of a donation from the local Ace Hardware store and after her article in the local paper, many others are asking how they can help.
“As an advocate I have to pinch myself!” she said. “I get so much joy from seeing kids outside, playing with each other. That is a big reward.”
Since 2018, ODOT has allocated some $44 million to 70 Safe Routes to School projects all over the state. Improving safety around schools so families have alternatives to driving is part of supporting a modern transportation system with increased active and public transportation options. Learn more about such efforts in ODOT’s Strategic Action Plan.