Saturday, October 29, 2011

Getting "Zapped" In Montclair

Yesterday, I visited the Edgemont Elementary School in Montclair to take a look at the innovative program they've implemented to get kids and parents motivated to walk and bike to school.Thanks to a grant, the school has adopted the Boltage program. Students receive a luggage-type tag that they attach to their backpacks, and when they walk or ride to school, they go under a 'zapper' that is mounted on a tall pole. Their walk/ride is recorded electronically. They receive incentives - like yesterday they got a cool glow in the dark charm to attach to their sneaker laces and a stamp on their hands. The program is managed by Jennifer Hanawald, a parent at the school, with the support of other parents, teachers, and the principal. Lots of happy, enthusiastic kids participating. Here's a report from Jennifer, that was posted on BikeWalkMontclair.org:
Montclair Walk & Bike to School Update: Edgemont’s Boltage ProgramBy Jennifer HanawaldEdgemont Boltage co-chair10/22/11
It’s still early in what will be the first full year for Boltage@Edgemont, the bike and walk incentive program launched last year at Montclair’s public Montessori Elementary School. But the infrastructure is in place and with the mild fall temperatures there’s been a steady flow at the “zap” machine that tracks participants as they arrive at the school’s front yard. This quiet routine is good news, and a reminder that the kick-off early last spring was not only the culmination of a lot of work. It was also the beginning of a volunteer, community-based effort to encourage families to adopt the habit of biking and walking to school.
How the system works
The Boltage system measures trips to school via technology mounted on a pole in the schoolyard. Walkers and bikers pass under the solar panel powered “zap machine” which beeps and flashes green as it reads the number on the student’s RFID tag (a cool 2” by 4” tag with the Boltage logo that can attach to kids’ backpacks). Parents register their kids online at Boltage.org and designate how long their trip will be, so each zap is associated with a specified distance. All kids can register, and participate as much as they are able. As the school year progresses, students can be the weekly winner, randomly selected by the system each week, and earn prizes and recognition, such as wristbands, water bottles, bike bells and toe-tokens.
Through its innovative systems now operating at 33 schools, Boltage, whose mission is to make walking and biking to school a way of life, has tracked over 435,000 trips equating to 58,000 gallons of gas saved, 28 million calories burned, 1.1 million pounds of CO2 saved, 650,000 kid powered miles, and 26 trips around the earth. (Edgemont data from last spring is included in these statistics.)

The back story
All this began as a simple suggestion, emailed to a health and wellness coordinator in late November 2009. That sparked another email, which then snowballed into a collaborative frenzy of research, grant-writing, rallying of support, re-writing to meet a deadline – in the middle of December. Followed by a long wait. Then, just as school was closing down in June, the exciting news came. Thanks to a Healthy Community Grant from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Edgemont was granted funding to start the state’s first Boltage program.
The implementation process was a learning curve. As the packages of solar panels and RFID devices arrived in the principal’s office, volunteers drafted flyers introducing the innovative program to the school community and pounded the pavement to find out where to get that 17-foot metal pole on which to mount the solar panel. In an effort that engaged a multitude of players – from Edgemont’s principal, staff and PTA, to the town’s Health and Wellness Partnership leaders and Bike&Walk Montclair’s Laura Torchio herself – Boltage took shape.
Finally, it was up and running. On April 6, 125 walkers and bikers were joined by the entire school, several township and community leaders, and the state coordinator for safe routes to school, who drove an hour and a half up the GSP at the crack of dawn to be the keynote speaker. For about 20 minutes, the community gathered together to consider the value of something simple, yet increasingly rare – kids walking to school. It was glorious.
And now…
On the first day of the current school year, which will be the first full year of Boltage implementation, a just handful of students who’d hung on to their tags over the summer began zapping again. Then the calls started coming in for replacement tags and new registrations. Momentum gathered and International Walk to School Day gave a major boost, with 85 students zapping in and more families requesting tags. Now, like all volunteer-based initiatives, it’s not a question of rolling up those sleeves again, but rather, keeping them rolled up. New students are registering and new ideas and incentives are being cooked up to encourage participation. The excitement of a new project is evolving into a sustainable program and hopefully, just another daily routine for a growing number of participants.
As one parent, who lives about a mile from school commented as she cut through Edgemont Park on her way home after a Boltage drop-off: “You don’t realize how great it is until you do it. These few minutes walking to school with my son and daughter are a treasure. It’s the only time I have with them when I’m not also thinking about work, or have my mind on other things, like what’s for dinner.”
-Stay tuned for an update later in the school year for how things are progressing at Boltage@Edgemont and other area programs designed to support self-powered transport.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spooky House Tour Family Bike Ride This Sunday!

Join us for a tour of the scariest, freakiest, most creative house decorations in Maplewood and South Orange this Sunday. Experienced SOMbike ride leaders will keep the ghosts at bay.
Meet-up - Baird Center, 5 Mead St., 10 AM
All welcome!
Costumes encouraged!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Foliage Ride This Sunday, Oct. 16th!

Join us for a fun ride this Sunday. We'll start in Stockton and then ride down to Lambertville and back. For those that want to keep biking, they can go to Frenchtown and back.We'll meet up at 10am at the NJ Transit Parking Lot in Maplewood (Maplewood Ave. & Baker) to arrange carpooling.If you plan to go, please email: ekahaner@gmail.comLast minute weather issues - check sombike.com. Also, an email will go out.
Here are the driving directions from Maplewood: Starting from Maplewood Ave1Head southwest on Maplewood Ave toward Durand Rd2Take the 3rd right onto Highland Pl3Turn left onto Ridgewood Rd4Turn left onto Millburn Ave5Slight right onto Vauxhall Rd6Turn right onto Springfield Ave7Take the ramp to NJ-24 W/Morristown8Merge onto I-78 W9Take exit 29 for I-287 toward US-202/US-206/Morristown/Somerville10Keep left at the fork and merge onto I-287 S11Take exit 17 on the left for US-202 S/US-206 S toward US-22 W/Somerville/Flemington12Keep right at the fork and merge onto US-202 S/US-206 SContinue to follow US-202 S13At the traffic circle, take the 2nd exit onto NJ-12 W14At the traffic circle, continue straight to stay on NJ-12 W15At the traffic circle, take the 4th exit onto Frenchtown Flemington Rd/State Route 1216Continue onto County Rd 523/Sergeantsville Flemington Rd17Continue onto County Rd 579/Easton Trenton Turnpike/Sergeantsville RdContinue to follow Sergeantsville Rd18Turn left onto Broad StArriving at Broad St.