Charkes named coalition’s Community Champion

BRATTLEBORO — Alice Charkes is a teacher at Green Street School (GSS) and the Fit and Healthy Kids Coalition has named her the Summer 2015 Community Champion.

When her daughter Olivia was born, Charkes towed her to childcare in a Burley trailer behind her bike.

When Olivia grew out of the trailer, they got a tandem and biked together. When Olivia was in first grade at GSS, Charkes worked with the principal to get a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program grant. The grant funded a radar speed sign and an improved crosswalk near the school.

Charkes now coordinates the SRTS program which promotes safe walking and biking to school.

According to a press release, Charkes not only loves to bike for recreation and transportation, but is committed to teaching kids and adults to bike and walk safely and to advocating for safer streets.

Charkes began bicycling for transportation after her junior year in high school, and continued in college and while living in Boston, commuting to her jobs by bicycle.

Two extended bike trips (in Europe and across the United States) deepened her passion for riding. She has led a yearly trip and taught bike trip leadership through Adventure cycling for the past 20 years.

Since moving to Brattleboro, she has gradually increased her bicycle commuting to year-round and she began advocating for safer roadways by joining the Vermont Bicycle/Pedestrian Coalition Board and chairing the local chapter.

Charkes teaches bike safety to all fifth- and sixth-graders at GSS. In this “on bike program,” the kids learn helmet fit, bike fit, road safety, handling skills, and traffic skills. She has also offered walking safety instruction to the kindergarten and first-grade classes.

She advocates for bicycling by being a guest speaker in Driver's Ed classes. She has visited seven classes and reached 140 kids each year, since 2008, teaching about the laws and rights and responsibilities for bicyclers and drivers.

Charkes is co-chair of the Safe Streets Project, which provides education and outreach to drivers, walkers, and bikers alike. She recently began teaching free “Everyday Biking Workshops” for adults, to get more adults riding, and also in the belief that parents who are informed and comfortable on bicycles model and pass along safe riding skills to their children.

Charkes has worked closely with the Brattleboro Department of Public Works to improve biking and walking infrastructure in town.

“[Director] Steve Barrett has been an incredible ally for over 10 years,” said Charkes. Notable improvements are the Union Hill/Western Avenue intersection, with new bump outs and a safer, shortened crosswalk.

Occasionally she said she hears the gratifying words that someone is changing their lifestyle because of her. This summer, Charkes and Olivia (now 16) completed a 1,000 mile bike trip together in the United Kingdom.

Why is Charkes so passionate about biking? She said she loves getting there on her own power, she loves experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and changes of seasons - the flowers, leaves, wood smoke, and the wind.

“When I'm on a bike, all my senses are alive and I feel connected with where I live. That's important to me. I want others to experience that too!”

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