Bike Easy hopes to teach the next generation of bicycle riders about safety and the rules of the road through its Walk & Roll New Orleans school programs.
In addition to conducting classes this year at 10 charter schools to encourage “active transportation,” Bike Easy is helping to promote Walk & Roll to School Week, May 9-15.
The week begins with a Family Kick-Off Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 9 that includes a Youth Bike Rodeo and 5K Bike Ride starting at Andrew H. Wilson School and ending at Rosa F. Keller Library. Festivities follow with food, music and family activities at the library including Fit NOLA hula-hooping and Mother’s Day card-making.
Partners with Bike Easy for Walk & Roll to School activities include City Council member LaToya Cantrell, Tulane University’s Prevention Research Center, FitNOLA, NOLA Women on Bikes, health educator Doc Griggs, Wilson School and Sylvanie Williams College Prep.
With the goal of getting more youths to bike to school, Bike Easy has provided bike safety enrichment classes for fourth- and fifth-graders at ARISE Academy, Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep, Medard H. Nelson Charter, ReNEW Schaumburg, ReNEW Cultural Arts, Success Prep Academy, Sylvanie Williams College Prep and Phillis Wheatley Elementary School.
The Young Leadership Council’s “Where Ya’ Rack?” project also is contributing by installing racks so bikes can be secured while school is in session.
The classes are to help protect youth and cultivate awareness of traffic laws at an age when children are ready to learn.
For each class, Bike Easy brings 15 bicycles to be used to practice proper ways to signal a turn, scan for traffic and stop at traffic signs.
“Most haven’t thought about the rules of the road. A bike is a vehicle under the law and has to stop at stop signs,” Olson said.
The response from students and faculty has been positive, said Virginia Brisley, who runs the classes. Students practice starting and stopping and riding in a straight line.
“Some of Wilson Charter’s students participated in Bike Easy’s bike and pedestrian safety training in preparation for the event. They learned some important lessons, and nothing looks happier than kids on bikes,” said Jason Lacoste, development director.
In 1969, almost half of all students rode their bikes to school, but those numbers have steadily declined to 12 percent due to more traffic and larger schools built greater distances from where families live, according to the National Household Travel Survey. Today, 33 percent of parents drive their children to school out of concerns for distance and personal safety.
Cantrell’s office would like to reverse that trend. More than a fifth of New Orleans students still live within a mile of their school and could bike, said Marilyn Wood, Cantrell’s chief of staff and an avid bike commuter. Giving kids the option to walk or bike to school is a good way to help them build a sense of autonomy, Wood added.
Student safety while traveling to school came to the forefront last year when 6-year-old Shaud Wilson was killed by a motorist while walking to a school bus. Cantrell convened a working group in response to develop an overall safety campaign for the city and to establish a Safe Routes to School Office.
Research shows that kids derive many benefits from biking to school, including improved cognitive, intellectual and social skills.
Following moderate exercise, children arrive at school more alert and demonstrate better ability to pay attention in class.
In addition to safety and health benefits, “one of the costs of bus transportation is students wasting time sitting instead of being involved in after-school activities or doing their homework,” said Anneka Olson, Bike Easy’s community education manager.
To participate in the Family Kick-Off, call (504) 861-4022 or register at www.bikeeasy.org.