By Erin Bacon: Safe Routes to School Moscow, Idaho
As a mother of two grade school age bikers and a Safe Routes to School Program Coordinator, I have been thinking a lot about how and when children cyclists should make the transition from riding on the sidewalk to riding on the road. Typical bike education for children focuses on things like ABC quick checks, helmet safety, scanning for traffic when crossing a street, and basic bike anatomy and function. All of which is valuable and necessary for safe riding at every age. What resources are available to kids who reach the age, size, and speed when it is no longer safe for them to ride on the sidewalk? How do young cyclists safely make the transition to the road and other bike friendly infrastructure? To operate a motor vehicle there are required tests, classes, student driving time, and a number of other qualifications that must be met.
To ride a bike on the street with automobile traffic there is no certification process. Skill, attained knowledge over time, and a healthy amount of grit are all cyclists have to arm themselves to be ready to ride on the road. I am in no way implicating a license should be required. Nor do I want to have to endure the process of attaining. I am simply making a comparison between the two processes. If we educated teenage drivers the same way we educate teenage cyclists; we would hand them the keys to a car, tell them to buckle up, and instruct them to keep it between the lines.
As a Moscow Idaho resident I enjoy the many bike-friendly options my city has to offer. There are bike lanes, paths, and Green Ways where I can safely cycle. However, there are many places in my community where none of this is available. There are also many places where the bike lanes end abruptly and I am forced to ride with automobile traffic. I know what to do when this happens and I strive to be a safe and courteous cyclist. A less experienced cyclist might not be able navigate this labyrinth, resulting in a less than positive experience for themselves and fellow motorists.
With more and more people choosing bikes over other forms of transportation, we need better educational programs for young cyclists. My hope is to make meaningful connections with agencies and other programs who share similar goals and establish systems in my community to start this form of education. I firmly believe that this a necessary step in helping to provide a lifelong habit of human powered transportation and healthy living for children.