On a cool, cloudy day last April, Erika Henry, Summer Parkways Co-Chair, reviewed arm signals with a group of helmeted children straddling their bikes. She held her arm out and asked, “What direction am I turning?”
A chorus of kids answered, “Left.” And so began Spokane’s first Kidical Mass.
Kidical Mass (www.kidicalmass.org) began in Eugene, Oregon, in 2008, in part as a means to get children and families more involved in, and excited about, cycling. Riding in a group helps the children learn more about riding in traffic and increases their confidence to do so. Parents and adults riding along add to the safety. But most importantly, everyone has a comfortable and fun bike ride. Bill, Erika, and the Summer Parkways organization thought it would be a great idea to bring Kidical Mass to Spokane.
They held Spokane’s first Kidical Mass during the West Central Neighbor Days Festival at Cannon Park. After reviewing hand signals and some basic safety rules, the kids left the park and leisurely followed a three-mile route shepherded by several adults. Bill Bender, also a Summer Parkways Co-Chair, led the ride. Along the route he talked to the kids about what to do as each situation developed before them.
“Okay, when we’re approaching an intersection we want to slow down and look both ways. If there are cars coming we want to stop and let them go by. If we have a Stop sign then we want to stop no matter what.”
At a stop sign to cross Pettit Drive Bill asked one of the children to come up to the front.
“Tell me when we’re clear to go.”
The little girl was about eight years old. She looked left and right and left again. “There’s a bus coming,” she said.
“Good job,” said Bill. “So keep watching and tell us when we can go.”
After the bus and another car went by, she spoke up. “Okay, we can go.”
“Very good. Thank you.” Bill continued to involve the kids and encourage them as they rode along. Parents, grandparents, and other adults on the ride also coached their charges. They reinforced the meaning and use of hand signals, keeping an eye out for traffic, and most importantly, that riding a bike is fun.
The second Kidical Mass was held in mid-May in the Chief Garry neighborhood. Free helmets were provided by the Progressions Credit Union. (The Cop Shop provided free helmets at the first Kidical Mass.) This time Bill had the honors of teaching the hand signals. Watched over by adults, this group of energetic kids took a tour of their neighborhood along and across roads with vehicle traffic present. One different aspect of this route was that it included getting off the bike and crossing an arterial as a pedestrian—twice.
When it was over, many of the children said that three-mile ride was the farthest distance they had ever gone. That may be true for some, but I suspect they thought so because they were riding under conditions that were more controlled than they’re used to. When I was a kid my friends and I never paid attention to how far we rode. We just kept pushing the pedals until we got to where we were going. We were focused on playing, not distance.
There is one more Kidical Mass event scheduled for Thursday, Sep 12, in the South Perry neighborhood. Meet and register—it’s free!—for the ride at 4:30 pm at the Two Wheel Transit bike shop at 817 South Perry (www.twowheeltransit.com). Helmets are required. At 5:00 pm, the kids will get their instructions, and then the wheels will start rolling. This time the route is 2.5 miles long. You can get all the details about the ride and route on the Summer Parkways web site (www.summerparkways.com).
One great thing about this event is that you do not have to reside in the neighborhood where the Kidical Mass is being held in order to attend. In fact, taking your child to more than one event will help reinforce what they’ve been learning. There was one repeat attendee from the first two rides. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that young person pedaling along with her dad this time, too.
Could your child benefit from a bike safety refresher? Do you and yours want to have fun on a nice easy ride? Then come on out. Whether you live across town or in the South Perry neighborhood, whether you’ve been to either, neither, or both of the previous rides, you are welcome to join in.
What’s the main reason you should go? Because bike riding is fun.