The News-Press, September 5, 2016
By Craig Handel
Federal program helps keep youth cyclists safe
Bike Expert, Dan Moser, talks about the state of cycling in Lee County. Andrew West/news-press.com
With school back in session, the images of children biking and walking to their classes in the morning are common.
And if you’ve noticed those kids with helmets on, riding in the right lanes or giving proper hand signals, there’s a good chance they’ve taken part in a program called Safe Routes to School.
The Federal program gives money to states and officials decide how to distribute that locally. When Lee County School officials applied for a grant, they received a trailer with 30 free bicycles for students to learn with.
The trailer is portable so it can be taken from school to school where a community educator works with physical education teachers to teach the program. In Lee County that is Mitch Marinack and Debra McBride and in Collier County, that’s Jodi Walburn.
Marinack said last year, he taught at 35 elementary and middle schools. This year the goal is 40. In Lee County, there are 44 elementary and 16 middle schools. He said school officials who email him usually get served first.
“There’s always new information while we also like to make this a refresher course,” Marinack said. “This program is important because this area ranks high in the number of pedestrian and bicycling accidents.”
For this reason, Alexandria Whalen, a professional development leadership specialist in health and physical education in the Lee County School District, said it’s important to educate all students about safety.
"They can use it throughout their lives because we also want to encourage students to be active,” Whalen said. “The kids have a bike rodeo where we set up an obstacle course and they stop and give hand signals.”
“We received one full-time and a part-time person working in the schools because we’ve been recognized in the state as a leader in bike and pedestrian safety.”
Whalen has worked with Dan Moser of BikeWalkLee, who also is a pedestrian and traffic safety consultant. Physical education teachers who want to use the trailer and teach kids have taken an eight-hour course to get certified.
Florida has benchmarks and standards here to ensure youths are receiving various training, depending on their age, according to Whalen.
“I like to train people who’ll work with these kids,” Moser said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement for numbers of people working with kids. But in time, it’ll be very helpful to have two folks on hand because the PE teachers are overwhelmed having to work with 90-100 kids.”
Moser added some teaching also is done with the Saturday morning slow rolls in Fort Myers that focus on day-time, family rides.
“We’re trying to catch brand new riders and go over real basic stuff,” Moser said. “If we can catch them early, they’re not picking up bad habits and they understand the implications if they don’t go by the rules of the road.”
Moser is a huge proponent of everyone wearing helmets, no matter how far they ride. He’s heard countless stories of people who severely cracked helmets after falling, but avoided head and brain injuries.
Whalen said thousands of helmets have been provided to youths through Safe Routes to School.
“It’s important students master these safety tips,” she said.