Several Newark elementary school students braved the unseasonably cold weather (and a few rain drops) in early November to attend a bike rodeo, a fun interactive event to teach children the skills and precautions necessary to safely ride a bicycle. As part of a Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure grant, five New Jersey organizations—Tri-State, Meadowlink, La Casa de Don Pedro, Urban League of Essex County and Ironbound Community Corporation—have partnered with six elementary schools—Camden Street, Hawkins Street, Horton, McKinley, Sussex Ave and 13th Ave Schools—to prepare School Travel Plans and also to facilitate a variety of educational outreach events to encourage safe biking and walking.
The students at November’s bike rodeo were guided through a series of drills to teach them the importance of pre-ride safety checks, bike sizing and helmet fitting. Drills and information about traffic safety were also conducted, including: where to ride on the road; stop, look left-right-left before entering traffic; hand signals; and visibility and predictability.
Since adopting a Complete Streets policy in September 2012, Newark has installed dedicated bike lanes and sharrows and promoted advanced safety initiatives to improve bicycling in the city. The City is currently in the midst of preparing a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Action Plan and recently held the first informational and interactive open-house. Unfortunately, this applaudable progress is being undermined by the fact that Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is reportedly removing the recently-installed protected bike lanes on Mount Prospect Avenue in response to complaints from local business owners. The enthusiasm of the children at the bike rodeo shows that bike safety goes beyond engineering and education – true bike safety cannot succeed without public support for cycling.