Bike racks outside Pinckney Elementary fill up on Bike to School Day

Ben Lyles, 6, a kindergarten student at Pinckney Elementary, was among those who biked to school Wednesday, May 6, 2015, on national Bike to School Day.

Despite the threat of thunderstorms, Pinckney Elementary and other Lawrence schools saw many more kids arrive by bicycle than normal Wednesday.

The posse of bicyclists came as a result of National Bike to School Day. Various schools encouraged their students to saddle up on two wheels and pedal over.

At Pinckney, several parents organized a “bike train” in which adults met students at several spots in the surrounding neighborhood and lead them to class.

Biking to school in Lawrence

• 2.5 percent of students ride their bike to school.

• 11.7 percent of students walk to school

• More than 60 percent of students who live less than a half-mile from school have asked to walk or bike.

• More than 60 percent of parents worry about safety at intersections and crossings.

Source: Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Five students gathered at Eighth and Massachusetts streets shortly before 8 a.m. Along for the trip was the mother of three of them, Meg Lyles. She said walking or biking is the usual for her sons.

“I feel really safe letting our kids walk,” she said.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department recently launched an effort to encourage more biking and walking to school. In a survey of 49 Pinckney parents, the department found that two percent of students typically bike to school and 37 percent walk.

Chris Tilden, the health department’s community health director, said the citywide rate of students biking and walking to school matches national trends, but he believes there’s room to improve.

“Given that we have neighborhood schools in Lawrence, we feel we can do better,” he said.

The health department encourages walking and biking to school because students who do have a higher average level of physical activity, which can lead to better overall health and academic performance, health officials say.

As students biking to Pinckney came within two blocks of the school Wednesday, they ran into more classmates on bike and foot; three of them took minor spills when they failed to negotiate the edge of the sidewalk. They rode through the tunnel that ducks Sixth Street and added their bikes to a pile of others.

Ward Lyles, Meg’s husband and an organizer of the bike train, said the racks at Pinckney usually have five bikes. Today there were more than 20. Langston Hughes Elementary reported an increase of 40 bikers Wednesday, while Sunflower Elementary also noticed more two-wheeled traffic.

Lyles said he eventually hopes to organize a bike train every month for the students.

“The sense of community — it’s awesome,” he said.