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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pedaling safer paths for kids

SpokeFest works year-round to promote cycling and safety, with activities beyond its annual Spokane ride this Sunday.

In fact, the group has supported a bike training program teaching kids with chaperones about cycling etiquette riding as a group to some area schools. And its volunteers will support a Sept. 14 Global Kidical Massive kids ride in Kendall Yards offering safety tips for families.

Cycling safety is something parents can model and teach kids starting at around age 5, said Bill Bender, SpokeFest president and recently retired neurologist. He also is SpokeFest’s founder.

“One thing is that parents should provide a good example – that if they expect their kids to wear helmets, the parents should wear helmets, as well,” Bender said.

“I witness a pretty fair amount of parents out on a ride with kids, and the kids wearing helmets and the parents not, or sometimes seeing kids biking away from home with the helmet hanging by the handle bars. Helmets work best when they’re worn by both kids and parents and the straps are fastened.”

Kids also need to be taught about paying attention to their surroundings, learning proper hand signals and following basic road rules.

Bender and others want to send the message that cycling is fun and a good way to get around when children and adults do so safely. Properly fitted helmets can’t be emphasized enough, he added.

“It just gets back to the helmets for me as a neurologist and with general statistics because the most concerning type of accident is one that causes a concussion,” he said. “You don’t have to be in a dangerous accident; you can fall in your own driveway, so helmets are important all the time.

“Concussions can happen anywhere, anytime. Whenever you’re on a bike or scooter, you should be wearing a helmet. It’s one of the more common causes of head injury. A helmet makes a huge difference.”

Kids safety tips

In teaching kids cycling safety, Bender has learned that it’s best if you don’t make the guidance too long or complicated. And to ride by example.

“We try to restrict it to a couple of key points – ride to the right side of the street, and make your intentions known to cyclists around you and to cars if you’re singling for turning left, turning right or stopping, and often also to yell out those same things,” Bender said.

“And it’s watching for traffic at every intersection they cross … to look in all directions when crossing, and if riding with friends, to communicate that we’re stopping or turning.”

Parents also can take a younger child out for practice in an empty parking lot or sports courts at a park, he said. Teach children to consider going out of a driveway in the same way as coming to an intersection, to look both ways and proceed only if it’s clear.

SpokeFest’s website links to a national brochure with common bike myths parents should know:

Myth 1 – Bicyclists should ride facing traffic when in fact cyclists need to be to the right side of the road. At an intersection, few drivers look for traffic coming the wrong way.

Myth 2 – A child needs a bike to grow into. On a bike too big, kids wobble and weave. They won’t be able to react fast in an emergency. Your child should be able to stand over his or her bike with both feet flat on the ground.

Myth 3 – Kids can start on a multispeed mountain bike. Few young kids can work standard-sized hand-brakes or confusing shifters while steering and pedaling, and they’ll likely stop by dragging their feet. For a child’s first bike, choose a sturdy one-speed with a coaster brake.

Myth 4 – Our neighborhood is quiet. Many bike crashes involving children happen on quiet residential streets with 25 mph speed limits. Don’t forget safety in familiar surroundings.

Cycling connections

SpokeFest partners with other organizations to offer free kids helmets and wearing guidance. It has participated with schools the past two years to offer guidance for parent volunteers helping kids to bike to school and learn cycling etiquette, Bender said. Hutton Elementary is one example of a school starting a bike-to-school program, he said.

The Spokane Regional Health District also is involved in safe routes to schools and bike safety, said Jenny Arnold, public health educator. The focus includes Walking School Bus and Walk Bike Bus, two separate programs promoting active transportation.

While most work so far has built Walking School Bus, Arnold said Spokane has started informal “bike trains” typically led by parents to encourage more kids cycling to school.

“All the children are under adult supervision to make sure they are signaling, wearing helmets, giving each other enough space,” she said. “The adults are modeling positive biking behavior for the kids.”

Spokane Bike Club is another group supporting families’ cycling, she added. Arnold suggests that parents spend time cycling with kids to model safe behaviors. They also can point out to kids while driving when they see cyclists nearby riding correctly and using signals.

“Being on a bike is a freeing experience and an awesome way to explore the community, so it’s reinforcing things like a wave to thank people in cars or encouraging that positive cycling behavior,” Arnold said. “It makes it fun for everyone.”

The health district includes a helmet safety guide for parents through the website

Kidical Massive

SpokeFest backs another community biking event called Kidical Massive that is part of a worldwide effort to get more adults and children on bikes safely. The next Kidical ride in Spokane is Sept. 14 in Kendall Yards.

“Basically, what we do is we have kids ride in the street for about a 3-mile ride chaperoned by adults who are again teaching them proper bike etiquette, how to ride safely and teaching them hand signals,” Bender said.

“We’ll be running kids through bike safety checks, helmet safety and bike etiquette while making sure that kids are wearing helmets properly.”

The group also sponsors the Summer Parkways Spokane event.

“SpokeFest puts on Summer Parkways in June in which 4 miles of streets are closed to traffic and opened to people walking and cycling,” Bender said. “Kaiser Permanente usually gives away and fits helmets during that event.”

With an uptick in cycling, he thinks there is more emphasis on skills taught to children.

“What most of us grew up with is being sent out the door, have fun or riding with other kids around the block,” he said.

“What we’re seeing more of is kids and families using a bike to go places within a couple miles’ radius and needing to ride on the street and, hopefully, kids being given better guidance. I also think there is going to be a growing push for kids to ride and walk to school.”

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