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Biking to school: Lisbon’s Bicycle Train Programme

Blog Biking to school: Lisbon’s Bicycle Train Programme
Bike trains are starting to appear all around the Portuguese capital. A great initiative to teach children about sustainable mobility while having fun, and leading Lisbon a step further on its green journey.
Imagine this scene: on a busy weekday morning, among the usual chaos you find in front of a school, you see an orderly line of children arriving by bike with an adult leading the way. Now you know what a bicycle train is. Just like a regular train, the bicycle train has a driver, a specific route to follow and makes several stops along the way to pick up young pupils. It follows the same concept of walking buses and thus offers children a way to arrive safely in a group to school while being supervised by an adult.

In Lisbon, the bike train initiative started in 2015, when a father of a pupil from the Parque das Nações School decided to take his 5-year-old son to school by bike. He invited other parents and their children to ride along. Gradually, parents, volunteers and members of the local town hall made sure the bike train would happen every Friday. And so, CicloExpresso do Oriente was born. In 2017, another CicloExpresso was created at the Barrocas School in the city of Aveiro.

In 2019, after a proposition from Bicicultura – a cultural center for the promotion and education of mobility by bicycle – Lisbon Municipality joined and amplified the initiative, starting a pilot project in three schools of the capital.

Every bike train is lead by an adult...

Today, the bicycle trains are part of the School Mobility Programme of the Municipality. For now, there are eleven different bicycle train lines, 18 different routes and 12 schools involved. More than a hundred students go to school by bicycle at least once a week with the ratio of one adult to four children. For each bike line a WhatsApp group has been set up to share practical information and the location of the bike train in real time. 

For the moment, riding home is complicated because children do not finish school all at the same time. But solutions are being studied. Moreover, most bike lines work only once per week since their operation depends on the availability of the adult supervisors. But a couple of bike lines do operate a few times per week. A tendency likely to grow since Bicicultura, which works in collaboration with the city, has recently started to provide training to parents and employees of the local parishes to supervise the bike trains. 

To make the programme go as smoothly as possible, the Municipality works also with local parishes. Furthermore, it receives subsidies from the Fundo Ambiental, a funding created and managed by the Ministry of the Environment to support green policies.

The benefits of bicycle trains are numerous. First, it is a great way to promote sustainable mobility and teach children to be autonomous. Second, it provides physical activity for the children, which is good both for their physical and mental health. Physical activity helps decreasing levels of anxiety and depression therefore, children biking to school are more likely to arrive alert and ready to study. Third, it instills safe cycling habits and skills among the children. Each time a new student joins the bicycle train, the supervisor makes sure to explain the rules: cycle in line, do not overpass the leading adult nor another child, at crossroads always wait for the supervisor’s instructions, and respect pedestrians. Finally, and most important, have fun!

And the fun aspect is key to encouraging other children to join the bike train and growing the initiative. As says Miguel Cambão, employee at the Mobility Studies and Planning Division of the Lisbon Municipality and, also bike train supervisor: “It's the kids who bring the parents. I mean, when the train arrives at schools it has a certain impact, the kids are all excited and will tell their parents that they want to come too.”

...and ends with an adult.

Interested by this topic? Make sure to attend the following Velo-city 2021 session: 6.2. “Cycling to School”.
Check out the whole programme here: Programme – Velo-city 2021 Lisboa 
Register to the conference here: Tickets – Velo-city 2021 Lisboa 

By Adèle Saingenest
12th of July, 2021