Most schools have lessons on safety that teach kids to always wear a seatbelt when they're in cars and helmets when they ride their bikes. What a lot of schools don't teach, however, is how to actually ride that bike. A new initiative in Washington, D.C.'s public schools plans to change that.
Starting this year, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association will send instructors to every elementary school in the city to teach second graders how to ride a bike. The project is using a collection of 475 bicycles that will rotate throughout the district so every child has his or her own bike during classes. After several weeks of training, the program will culminate in a day-long trip around the neighborhood during which students will ride up to five to seven miles.
Focusing on second graders was a conscious decision. The school district wanted to work with students at an age when some were old enough to already know how to ride a bike, but young enough for students who didn't know yet to not feel embarrassed.
This is about more than just making sure kids are able to ride are the park.
Bicycles often serve as a transportation equalizer in cities. Though bike lanes tend to better serve city centers and wealthier neighborhoods, bikes allow people in areas underserved by public transit to have better access to their areas. Bike share programs have been expanding in cities around the countries including in D.C., and bicycle education initiatives like this one are working to ensure low-income residents aren't left out.
Getting people to appreciate bikes at an early age also helps people appreciate the importance of making cities bicycle friendly.
Washington Area Bicyclist Association's Education Director Dan Hoagland says bicycle advocates need to broaden their audience if they're aiming for sustainable improvement. "We can't survive if we're only going after the white, bearded guys with bikes," he told CityLab. "If we want to create the next generation of advocates, we need to make sure they're enjoying and excited about bicycling from as young an age as possible."