With Biking Education is Everything
May 20, 2011
Mark Blackwell recommends taking a look at these sites if you are parents in need of answers about children biking to school.
I love the marketing plan, “More Biking, More Often”. More bikes on the road, less pollution, less traffic. I myself am an avid biker, and think cycling is wonderful exercise and great fun. It is the mother in me that urges caution though, before I send my children free wheeling down Arlington Ridge Road. Hundreds of young people are going to be blazing the bike trails this spring and do not have a clue what to expect out there.
In Arlington, quiet suburban like streets, feed into major thoroughfares. Drivers in search of a short cuts are often winding through our neighborhoods with their GPS, above the speed limits, trying to avoid a traffic light in the hopes of shaving a minute or two off their commute. Children are the last thing on drivers minds as they motor into densely populated areas like Crystal City or Court House. Not to mention hazards like blind spots, texting drivers and changing road conditions to name a few. Some parents might feel like sending their child on a bike to school during rush hour is like sending them into combat. In some parts of the city I would have to agree.
One of my favorite sayings is “luck favors the prepared.” But in the case of biking to school on a daily basis, luck needs to be coupled with diligence and a determination to leave nothing to chance.
Below are some safety tips for students and parents when taking off on two-wheels
- Travel on predictable routes. Skip the short cuts. Inattentive drivers need conditioning too. Be where drivers expect no popping in and out of parked cars.
- Dismount at major intersection. This slows everything down in unpredictable settings and sends a strong message to cars that they are in a pedestrian zone. Remember drivers do not always think about the frailty of bikers as much as they do people on foot
- Cross in groups. Particularly at major intersections where the time to cross is not very long. Remember there are cars that are sitting with their foot on the gas pedal, so teaching your children to wait a few extra minutes longer is not only a lesson in patience it is a lesson for life.
- Test your brakes before heading down a hill. Children, especially, are not always in the habit of stopping in plenty of time. When moving up to bikes with hand brakes remember, little hands cannot always reach around the hand grips. Stopping quickly means controlling a skid. Make sure you do lots of hard stop testing. Practice on a slight inclines, not on roads leading to major intersections
- Talk about radical dismounts. Giving your kids permission to do the unthinkable. Talk about the unexpected. Ask your child if they would be willing veer off road, take a skid, or jump off if they needed to. This one lesson could save their life.
- Shadow you child. Give them an opportunity to ride with you. Don’t coddle them, Falls a good and they need to know how to deal with them. If possible, let them pick up their bike and drag it out of the road and to a safe place on their own. They need to know how to handle their bike.
- For Gods sake MAKE your children wear helmets and set an example by wearing one too.
I when I asked a Shirlington teen who has a bike why they don’t bike to school the her answer was honest, “laziness, I have a helmet and would not think twice about it being safe.” The question is would she be. I would love to see more young people biking to school, but so far none of my research has revealed bike safety courses in Arlington Public Schools. Why the not? Last year a young lady at the Energy Task Force Meeting at Wakefield made a brilliant observation. She said,” I could use a biking class, more than a swimming class, especially if people are pushing me to drive less.” That said, the risks are more prevalent then ever. Just recently, less than a mile from Wakefield High School, on a route many commuters travel, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, a biker collided head-on with a car the other day. This sad story is not merely a case of bike versus car with an terrible end, it is also an example of how even the slightest miscalculation can end in tragedy.
On Wednesday at the Aurora Highland Civic Association meeting residents S. of 395, voted unanimously to ask the county to work on developing safer bike routes to both Gunston and Oakridge. They agreed bicycle safety benefits every citizen in Arlington. Ana Byre Mays, an active Arlington senior shared her thoughts, Ana Byre Mays. “I have a biked all my life and I love biking, but lately I’ve gotten out of the habit, because I’m scared; or rather intimidated. Bike warriors, car warrior, walkers with big dogs, it seems like courtesy could go a long way.” Courtesy for both to the young, and the older riders is something that must be taught.”
When I asked Michele Chang, PTA parent at Oakridge Elementary, about here recent bike ride with her twin third graders she said, “We biked for the first time on Mother’s Day and to be honest it was scary.” The bike trails are moving so quickly that it is hard even on a Sunday to merge in with a child. “I would love to have some bike parks, places with no major crossings, but rather bike paths with families in mind would be nice. Also, some information that is consistent about bikers on sidewalks and on the road.” When asked about what Arlington Public schools could do to help with bike safety education, her request came quickly, “We have Girls on the Run, how about Buddy’s on Wheels.”
We Mother’s and Father’s need to insist that the both the county and the school system help to outline of path youth bikers. Fining both bikers and automobiles for moving violations would go a long way too. We also need to make sure that students get the training they need to be safe cyclists. I encourage you to pick up the phone, send a letter or go to http://www.arlington.k12.va.us/site/default.aspx?PageID=1,
Arlington Public Schools (703)-228-6005
1426 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, VA 22202
Ideally, bicycle safety would be introduced in elementary schools, bike repair in middle schools, and a class on choosing cycling as an alternative commuting in high schools. Biking in Arlington has innumerable benefits every age can enjoy. One experience that is often forgotten and desperately needed among youth today is that biking requires you be in the moment. No cell, no text, no video just you, your wheels and your own energy propelling you. Man I love biking!