Rob Nagler and Tim Carlin never set out to be foot soldiers in the green movement. They didn’t plan to tackle childhood obesity or take on the car culture of this country. But who knew a pet peeve would turn into a national movement?
It all started one spring morning in 2005 when Nagler announced to his sons that from now on, they’d be riding their bikes or walking to school instead of riding in the car. The idea had been percolating ever since his sons’ school project the year before had shown him Colorado, neighborhood drove their kids to school every day—even though the distance was under a mile for most of them. Nagler figured if he set an example, even if just for his sons and their friends, it would be a start.
Eighty-eight percent of kids who lived within a mile of their schools walked or rode bikes to get there in 1969, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. That number dropped to 38 percent by 2009, even though kids today are just as safe from traffic and strangers—two worries behind parents’ driving—due to things like bike lanes and increased vigilance by school officials, says Sarah Martin, Ph.D., a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for those who say driving’s faster: Ever been stuck in school drop-off gridlock? Yikes.
But instead of presenting parents with safety facts or lecturing kids about exercise, Nagler took a different approach: bribery. He stood at the school bike rack every day with fellow dad, Carlin, armed with punch cards and hole-punchers. When kids made it to 10 rides, they won small prizes. By fall 2006, 10 new bike racks were added for the growing number of riders participating in the project, which the dads named Boltage. Punch cards were abandoned as too time consuming, replaced by a solar-powered device that tracks electronic chips stuck on bike helmets.
Today, Boltage is a national nonprofit in 18 U.S. schools and Canada, and is expected to grow to 30 states by 2011. To find out how you can bring Boltage to your kid’s school, go to boltage.org.