The Three Rivers Park District and the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota are gearing up to ride into the new year with a fleet of new bikes to help teach young bicycle riders about safety.
The two groups came together this month to assemble more than 36 bikes that the park district purchased with help from a $31,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. The bikes will be used with the bike alliance’s Walk! Bike! Fun! curriculum, funded in partnership with MnDOT, in some northwest metro schools and parks departments. The program will kick off in April and continue through the fall.
“The curriculum is being rolled out and being taught to teachers across the state,” said Dave Cowan, Safe Routes to School coordinator. “Teachers that have implemented Walk! Bike! Fun!, after being trained on it, are very enthusiastic about having it in their schools.”
The bike alliance and MnDOT are hoping the bike safety programs, offered in physical education classes and summer programs, will encourage students to ride more. Students will be taught not how to ride but how to safely navigate and take care of their bikes. They’ll also learn how to safely cross roads, follow traffic laws and share the roads with drivers. Students in kindergarten through third grade will learn pedestrian safety, while those in fourth through sixth grade will learn more about bicycle safety. Each lesson will take about 30 minutes.
C.J. Lindor, education specialist with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, said it’s a more comprehensive approach to student safety.
“It can have a lifetime impact on a kid’s safety,” he said.
Three Rivers Park District selected seven schools, as well as the Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park parks departments and Brooklyn Center police, to use the bike fleets. The schools include Park Brook Elementary School in Brooklyn Park, Northport Elementary School in Brooklyn Center and Plymouth Middle School in Plymouth.
Danny McCullough, regional trail system manager for the Three Rivers Park District, said the district wanted to serve students living in the suburban communities of Hennepin County who don’t have quick access to the district’s larger parks.
“This will give us an opportunity to bring the park and recreation component to them and help them discover those trails,” he said.
With the bike fleet, the Three Rivers Park District will offer student trips to its parks for a chance to ride along trail systems at Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain and Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove.
Bike registration is filling up. The bike fleet is 75 percent booked for summer programs, McCullough said.
“We should have had two bike fleets,” he said.
Since the spring of 2014, the Bike Alliance has trained about 295 educators, and it’s reached about 28,615 students since the fall of 2014, according to MnDOT.
Along with bike safety, MnDOT’s Safe Routes to School grants provide funding to making roads safer for bikers.
MnDOT has provided more than $20 million in federal funds to communities for Safe Routes to School programs since 2005.
“We identify where and what we can do with the route to make it safer for kids,” Lindor said.