Studies show that active kids perform better in the classroom and decrease behavior management time for teachers by one-fifth. Jake Newborn of the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation shares how their Safe Routes To School program is helping students in Milwaukee, and how shops can get involved to help create lifelong riders.
Far more than a typical one-day Bike Rodeo, the Wisconsin Bike Fed Safe Routes To School Program is getting Milwaukee students active and out on the streets of their community. The 10-hour curriculum begins with in-class reading, writing, and mapping activities that are tied to Common Core learning targets. After the kids learn the basics in the classroom, we move them to the playground where they learn basic riding skills, such as choosing the right size bike, riding straight, looking over your shoulder, the use of hand signals, street positioning, hazard avoidance, and braking.
After several days of skills practice, we block off a nearby street to practice the same skills in a real environment. Finally, all the students who pass the skills test get to go on a ride in real traffic. We not only teach how to ride and the rules of the road, but we also teach where to ride and how to read the Milwaukee Bike Map, and use the Google Maps bike routing application to avoid major arterials.
The program includes a free helmet for each participant, instruction on how to properly wear it and why, and education about all the health and environmental benefits of cycling. This all-inclusive approach is what sets our program apart from other programs or Bike Rodeos. We are very proud that our Safe Routes to School Program is recognized as among the most comprehensive in the country.
We have had great success at a few schools, one that had five or so kids biking only on nice weather days now has over 30 on a consistent basis, and over 100 on special Bike to School event days!
As the kids ride more, they become junior advocates for bicycle and pedestrian improvements in their neighborhoods. Recently a Department of Public Works road reconstruction project was looking for input from the community on the project. The students in our Safe Routes program wrote and submitted over 30 handwritten letters pointing out problems they have crossing streets and where they would like to see bicycle accommodations made.
If you’d like to get involved, but you’re unsure whether or not you currently have a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) working in your area, check with your state department of transportation. Each state has a person who handles TAP funding and Safe Routes to School programs.
Many of the biggest changes, however, can come locally and from the ground up. If it seems too daunting to go through the federal grant process, look at local city and county sources to fund encouragement and education programs. Speak with your city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator or city engineer. Host a Walk and Bike to School Day event at your kid’s school. If, however, you are interested in being more involved in applying for grants, contact your local government or bike advocacy group to find out how you can help.
Your shop could be the first line of advocacy in the neighborhood, so showing up at these Bike to School events to help with basic safety checks and filling up tires can go a long way to get more kids biking.
To download a free copy of the curriculum visit: