Cover Photo: Petersen in front of Bill Hogarth Secondary School (Photo by: Sheffield Wong)
“Build it and they will come” — that’s what Brayden Petersen, a student at Markham’s Bill Hogarth Secondary School, believes. You can’t refute this young cycling advocate’s observation that improved infrastructure inspires students to choose active transportation when he supports the claim with frequent Twitter posts showing full bike racks at his school.
“Our bike parking spots are right in front of the school. They’re bright, colourful, and rubberized. So, people really want to use the bike racks because they are not afraid of damaging their bikes or of having to park their bikes in a small corner of the school grounds. Today, for example, I got to school, the racks were already full and I counted some 150 bikes,” says Petersen.
This 12th grader says that his own passion for cycling was kindled when he discovered newly installed cycling facilities including new trails and separated bike lanes in his neighbourhood. “I don’t know why I never warmed up to the idea of biking, maybe it’s the infrastructure. I am an athlete and when the pandemic started everything was cancelled — I couldn’t swim or play volleyball. Around then, a new trail opened up near my house and I went with my dad and brother to check it out. I was like, ‘whoa, I can get around really quickly on a bike and it doesn’t cost you anything and it feels fun,’” says the 18-year-old.
What started as recreational cycling led to commuting to school on bike and even taking up road cycling as a sport! Since he began biking in 2020, Petersen has wheeled to school nearly 200 times and also tried out winter biking inspired by a video about year-round bikers in the Finnish city, Oulu. “GTA (Greater Toronto Area) winters aren’t too bad compared to what I saw in the video. One thing I learned is that when the snow is compact enough, it’s actually easier to ride on than when the road is wet, and in the GTA there are a lot of dry days. My main concern was being too cold. But, I quickly realized, when you’re biking, you get warm really fast, so I think that was probably the biggest barrier for me to overcome,” says Petersen.
Petersen in front of the full bike racks at his school (Photo by: Brayden Petersen)
As the President of the Student Council and a member of the school’s Athletic Council, he definitely serves as an inspiration for his schoolmates. “When people at my school saw me do it, they were like, ‘let me try this too.’ I think getting that idea out there and proving that it’s possible is really encouraging for myself and other people,” he says.
Petersen says one of the things suburban youths like himself find good about cycling is the freedom of mobility. He says that with bikes they have the option to explore their neighbourhoods without depending on cars. The Student Council president also praises his school’s support for cycling with well-designed bike racks, paths that help you skip the congestion in the parking lot and even inspiration from staff champions like guidance counsellor Varun Kumar who bikes to school.
“We have families and a community who support healthy and active living. I think positive peer support has a role to play in the school bike racks being full every day — when a child sees another (biking to school) it encourages them,” says Janani Pathy, Principal of Bill Hogarth S.S.
We asked Pathy what kind of support the school would need to promote active modes of school transportation further and here’s the response. “One of the concerns a lot of families share about students biking to school is safety — about having their kids share the road with cars, especially in heavily congested areas. I think support in terms of working with community partners and the town to have dedicated bike lanes and to promote awareness about safe road practices among drivers would be great.” The principal doesn’t forget to add that they could use more bike racks as the new ones they rolled out in September last year are already at full capacity on most days!
The school ran a campaign for Bike to School Week 2022 and was also part of a bike to school promotional video (linked below) done by the York Region District School Board. Petersen says that students who wheel to Bill Hogarth SS also intend to share their knowledge of local cycling routes with other students. This will provide beginner cyclists with route recommendations as online maps sometimes point users to roads with heavy traffic that can be scary for new cyclists.
Watch the video by YRDSB about the cycling culture at Bill Hogarth Secondary School: