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Springer School's push against cars most effective in country

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier Springer School students hurry through the WoW checkpoint that monitors foot and bike traffic. Parent Bob Haeckle, in blue, rewards a student with a treat after he passes the checkpoint.

Wow is right. Springer School’s WoW (Walk or Wheel) program, which promotes walking or cycling to school instead of driving, is a rousing success, according to Suzanne Ambiel, program manager. Since the program’s inception six weeks ago, the Springer community has recorded the highest student participation in the country.

Similar to Almond School’s Freiker and Santa Rita School’s Boltage programs, students use radio-frequency identification tags (RFIDs) clipped to their backpacks, bikes or scooters to register at a campus checkpoint when they commute to school without a car. Logging on the program’s Web site cues the system on the distance students have traveled.

The Springer checkpoint pole, which arrived March 18 and looks like a solar-powered radio antenna, has registered approximately 2,187 cyclists or walkers, more than Egan Junior High’s 1,929 and more than double Almond’s 955. And five of those days were spring break days.

According to Ambiel’s estimate, which assumes Springer parents drive 2 miles each day to drop off and pick up their children, the WoW program has eliminated nearly 22,000 driving miles from the road.

“Our goal is to make this the norm,” she said. “We want to get to a point where (the WoW program) isn’t necessary. … We want to get to where you don’t even think about it anymore – you just go.”

In addition to a reward system based on the number of miles racked up, students’ passion for WoW derives in large part from favorable geography, Ambiel said. The school sits amid a populous neighborhood, an advantage in accruing its numbers.

Recent traffic-calming projects near the school also help the cause. Multiple crosswalks, crossing guards and speed signs have been added, which facilitates biking or walking to school, Ambiel said.

Aside from reducing traffic congestion and emissions, another goal of WoW, according to Springer parent Bob Haeckle, who helps with coordination, is to combat childhood obesity.

“It gives children a fun alternative to getting physical exercise,” he said. “It is also not competitive at all. … This is truly an individual effort and gratification program for anyone who chooses to participate.”

But the altruistic goals of helping to reduce traffic, childhood obesity and harmful carbon emissions come with a price tag.

The checkpoint pole at Springer cost approximately $5,000, with an additional $750 required to support annual operations. Prizes and supply incentives for students to use WoW add to the total. And if students lose their RFID tags, that could contribute to the tab.

Fortunately, however, neither the school nor the parents absorb any of the program’s costs.Grants from GreenTown Los Altos and the Santa Clara County-based Traffic Safe Communities Network fund the project.

Despite the cost, students enjoy the program.

“This is their little contribution,” Ambiel said. “This is their chance to tackle very important issues. … They can make a huge difference.”

For more information, visit www.freiker.org. To underwrite a portion of the program, e-mail Ambiel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Contact Elliott Burr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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