Last week, the majority of the 6th grade class at Hillview Middle School biked the streets around campus, accompanied by Menlo Park police officers and parent and community volunteers. They were participating in the 2nd annual Hillview Bike Rodeo, a special bicycle education event that takes place during the students’ normal P.E. classes. The event is part of a nationwide trend to provide bicycle education as part of the school curriculum.
“After having extensive dialogues with concerned school staff and parents about the students’ safety, we thought this would be a good event to hold,” says community safety police officer Mary Ferguson, who led the event. “With the increase in traffic, ensuring the safety of our kids who are navigating the roadways has become a priority for me.”
During the 80-minute-long classes on Wednesday and Thursday, approximately 320 students learned about the basics of safe bicycling, including the importance of wearing a close-fitting helmet, looking over your shoulder before making a left-hand-turn, and using hand signals to communicate with others on the road. While last year’s bike rodeo was held on the blacktop and sports field, this year’s event gave students the chance to practice their skills in the real world. Students were divided into small groups, which each had an adult leader and follower, and biked along a route that went around the campus.
"I liked that so many police officers were there to both ensure safety and to give the children a positive experience with an officer," says Elizabeth Watson-Semmons, one of several community volunteers who staffed the event. "More public education about safe cycling but also about driving safely when cyclists are on the road is needed."
Last fall, several student bicyclists were involved in collisions, including one who broke his collarbone after being doored. As a result, community advocates have been pushing the city to create a formal Safe Routes to School plan similar to Palo Alto’s, in which city staff, police officers, school administration, and community members communicate regularly about safety concerns. “Making kids’ safety a priority is long overdue—we need to provide both education and the necessary sidewalks and bike lanes,” says Jen Wolosin, founder of the Menlo Park–based group Parents for Safe Routes.