Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bicycle Program Priorities in Fort Collins

Results for the Bicycle Priorities Survey are available at this link:

Survey results also allow you to click through to view an "other" comments made by respondents.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Watch for Built in Conflict Zones to Avoid Crashes

First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Oct. 3, 2011
Also published on Bob Mionske's blog,

Wearing a helmet and staying in the bike lane won’t protect you from crashes.  Even in a bicycle friendly community there are plenty of built in potential conflicts.  So cyclists need to learn to recognize them so they can avoid the crashes.

You may recall the three primary rules of safe cycling: 1) don’t fall off your bike; 2) don’t let anyone knock you off your bike; and 3) don’t you knock anyone else off their bike.  The first rule applies since half of all bike crashes involve only the cyclist.  A third of crashes involve another cyclist, a dog, or a pedestrian and only seventeen percent of bike crashes involve an automobile.  Most of these latter crashes can be avoided if you anticipate the conflict.  Unfortunately the place where you think you are safest, namely the bike lane, is often a major conflict zone. 

Parked cars along bike lanes can be dangerous.  So watch for opening car doors.  I ride the white line on most bike lanes in town.  I’m more visible to oncoming cars there and I am far enough from opening doors - about six feet - to be safe.  Some people will tell you that they watch for opening car doors and are able to avoid them.  But by focusing on that hazard they sometimes ignore other possible hazards around them.  In a narrow bike lane, as on Howes Street, I will ride just outside the white line in the travel lane. 

Where bike lanes cross intersections is another conflict zone.  The right turning motorist across a bike lane is the primary source of conflict here.  Our transportation planners have begun to consider this where possible, creating right turn lanes while bringing the through bike lane to the left of the turn lane.  The do-si-do dance step that ensues creates a safer intersection than the one in which right turning cars find themselves to the left of a line of cyclists. 

Unfortunately we have many intersections in town where the above treatment doesn’t work.  The cyclist’s rule of thumb that I would apply at all intersections is the following:  if you are continuing straight through the intersection, get out of the bike lane and take the primary travel lane.  This tells motorists your intent and makes room for right turning motorists to take the bike lane to execute their turn. 

Parked cars are a hazard anywhere, whether along a bike lane or not.  Diagonally parked cars are even more of a hazard.  So stay as far from them as you can.  This means that on Old Town streets such as Magnolia, Olive, Oak, all the streets surrounding Library Park, and on residential streets approaching CSU campus you should ride in the center of the travel lane well away from diagonally parked cars. You are more visible there and won’t be hit by a car backing out of a parking space.

Drive your bike carefully out there.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You Think you are Safe on the Sidewalk? Think Again

This story of a cyclist hit by a semi-trailer while waiting on the sidewalk is further proof that being visible to car and truck drivers is the most important aspect of safe cycling!
First published in the Coloradoan, Nov. 5, 2011
By Trevor Hughes
A semi-trailer driver who clipped a Fort Collins bicyclist on the sidewalk as he turned a corner and then kept going knocked off a fire hydrant a few blocks away as a driver chased him down.
The cyclist, 28, was waiting to cross at the intersection of LaPorte Avenue and Shields Street shortly before 5 p.m. Friday when the truck driver turned south from LaPorte onto Shields.
"His wheels ended up hitting the bicyclist who was on the sidewalk," police Sgt. Jackie Pearson said. "He didn't realize he had hit her."
Pearson said the truck driver, 24, continued south for several blocks until another driver chased him down. Startled at being pursued, the driver turned onto Oak Street.
"He ended up clipping the fire hydrant because he was being chased down by someone who was not a cop," Pearson said.
Pearson said the cyclist was not seriously injured, although her feet were hurt because her she had been clipped into the pedals when the truck hit her and her bike.
The truck driver, who was pulling a lowboy loaded with a hydraulic lift, was cited by officers.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Safe Cycling at Night - Being Seen is YOUR Problem

You need to be as visible as possible when riding at night.  Even the bare minimum of legally required lights or reflectors won't necessarily protect you at night.

Imagine a car load of teenagers driving down the road at night.  If you are on that road on your bike you are dependent on the driver of that vehicle going through five complex steps of "seeing" in order to avoid hitting you.  Those steps are:

1) Scanning and searching (requires constant attention both forward and to the sides);
2) Detection (requires focus on the object detected - that would be you!);
3) Evaluation (requires recognition and judgement);
4) Decision (requires the driver to think about what they see and what to do about it);
5) Action (applying the brakes, changing lanes, etc. to avoid a crash).

The problem with all of this is demonstrated in the following drawings:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teaching Kids Safe Cycling - The Example from the Netherlands

The Netherlands provides an excellent example of both the need for teaching children safe cycling skills and the Dutch solution to that problem.

In Fort Collins, City Council has adopted the "Bicycle Safety Education Plan."   The plan has a goal of reaching 11,000 school children in the community every year.

The following videos suggest both a rationale for doing this and a means to achieving that goal.

This first video shows a bit of the history behind Dutch bike paths and bike culture.

The second video describes the education program that teaches Dutch children how to ride safely. At age 12 200,000 kids per year take a safe cycling exam that allows them to bicycle to school once they get into middle school.
How the Dutch got their cycle paths 

Bicycle training in the Netherlands

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bike Sharing in the 21st Century

Last summer's Momentum Magazine had a great article by Carolyn Szczepanski on bike sharing around the world.  The author describes a variety of bike share programs, including B-Cycle, Alta Bicycle Share, and "Nice Ride Minnesota."  You can read Szczepanski's article here.

Boulder's B-Cycle program was installed last spring and is an example of new "street furniture" that is being installed in many cities.  The advantage of B-Cycle is that it ties into the transportation system so bicycling becomes a means of transportation, not just a fun thing to do (though it still is!)

Motorist in Roundabout Comments on Cyclist Losing a Shoe

A kind letter to the editor of the Coloradoan on October 22nd expresses the opinion that there may be a better or safer route for bikes through the roundabout at Vine Dr. and Taft Hill Road.

Roundabout at Taft Hill and Vine Drive (looking west on Vine).  Note how the bike lanes disappear so that cyclists are forced to decide either to take the lane as a motorist or to go onto the sidewalk as a pedestrian.

The week after we took students through here the County put up this sign to make it clear that cyclists have two choices on how to handle this. The Larimer County website has further instructions on how to negotiate a roundabout.  

To the Editor:
I am the motorist that Rick Price noted in his Monday column. I am also the motorist who was paying enough attention to wait while a boy, who had lost his shoe, stopped in the middle of the traffic circle and got off his bike to pick it up. I know that roundabout well. Cars zip around it. When it was built, I was pleased to see that it had been designed to let the bike lanes on Vine and Taft Hill flow out of the circle, around the edge on a "sidewalk" and then back on to the bike lane. If the volunteers leading the students had scouted the route, they would have noticed this safety feature and encouraged young riders - who might not think to just leave the shoe and keep moving - to use it. It might be true that the boy had a right to be in the roundabout, but there was a safer, bike-friendly alternative available.

All that said, I am glad that Rick lends his voice and knowledge to the promotion of bicycle safety in Fort Collins.

Jane Albritton

Taking 337 Middle School Students Bicycling through a Roundabout

First published in the Coloradoan October 17, 2011
By Rick Price, Ph.D.

I began writing my Smart Cycling column in January of 2010 after several people advised me that College Avenue in Old Town “isn’t a bike lane.”  One City employee actually explained to me two years ago that it was illegal for me to ride my bike on College Avenue even though, in reality, College is open to bicyclists except from Laurel to Harmony.  Other bicycling “dos and don’ts” need clarifying as well, for both motorists and cyclists.  This column is an attempt to help clear up some of the ongoing confusion. 

Two weeks ago Bike Co-op volunteers took three hundred thirty seven Lincoln Middle School students on bicycle rides through Old Town in groups ranging in size from ten to twenty-five.  Our ride included the roundabout at Vine Drive and Taft Hill Road, a ride through City Park and the shared lane arrows on Mountain Avenue. The only real problem we had was when one student lost a shoe in the middle of the roundabout and was advised by a motorist the he “should be on the sidewalk!”  The student had every right to be in the roundabout, although I advised him to keep his shoes on next time.

Many people believe that bikes should be on the sidewalk or at least as far to the right as possible on the roadway.  This is actually wrong, since bicyclists have a responsibility to be visible and to ride on the road where they feel “safe.”  Many people still think it is ok to bicycle against traffic so they can see cars coming toward them.  This practice is both dangerous and illegal.  The erroneous ideas about where cyclists should ride come from our rural roots where we learned that cyclists were merely “pedestrians on wheels.”

Several people have commented to me that they see bicyclists signaling right turns incorrectly with their right hand extended.  This is actually legal for cyclists as an alternative to raising their left hand.

Another behavior that you might see that is illegal or inappropriate is bicycles “splitting the lane” by sneaking up along the right hand curb along a line of cars at an intersection.  This is both illegal and dangerous since cyclists can be cut off by a right turning vehicle in this position.  Boulder allows cyclists to do this as long as they stop just behind the front-most vehicle, in full view of the second vehicle.  We should think about adopting this rule in Fort Collins. 

There is still a lot of confusion out there as we mature as a bicycle friendly community.  What about those bicyclists not stopping at stop signs or lights?  Many of us wish we had the “Idaho stop law” which, since 1982 has permitted cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and since 2006 has allowed cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs.  But that will be a while in the coming to Fort Collins and is a topic for another time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pedestrian Review for Older Children

Help kids and parents review safe pedestrian behavior. 
By 3rd grade most kids know what a pedestrian is. 
Go over these terms in class, make sure all children know to look left, look right, then left again before crossing the street.

Then challenge them to find the words on the left in the grid of letters.
The rest of the sheet is self explanatory.

All of these exercises build awareness for bicyclists as well as pedestrians.  

Save this image and print it from Windows Photo Viewer or visit and print it directly from their website:

Bike Helmet, Skateboard Helmet or ?? Help Kids Tell the Difference

Parents and kids need to understand the difference between and among helmets so they pick the right one for the specific activity.  Let kids match the right helmet to the right sport, then take this home to show their parents.   For use in your class you can "save image as" and print from Windows Photo Viewer or you can visit and print it directly from there:

Helmet Exercise for K thru 3rd Grade

To print this for use in your class simply save this image and print it from Windows Photo Viewer.  Alternatively, you can visit and print the pdf directly from there.

In a bike club with mixed ages older kids can help the younger kids complete this maze as time allows.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rainy Day Bike Education Activities for Middle School Students

What to do on a rainy day when you've got a classroom full of rowdy 7th and 8th graders who should be out on their bikes!?

1)  Rules of the Road:
Show this YouTube video of a bike/ped crash in NYC: 
Then talk about why we have rules.

2)  Another good video, although longer, is the 1963 film "One Got Fat."

It is 15 minutes long but pretty entertaining.

3) Of course - if you have enough tires and can either demonstrate or use a YouTube video you can show how to change a tube or patch a tire.

Try to let students who have done this before lead and demonstrate.  Get them to talk about each step they go through.

There are lots of YouTube videos on this.
Here's one on changing a road bike tire:

Here's another on a hybrid bike:

Monday, September 5, 2011

CSU Can Avoid Being a Chaos Box for Cyclists

 by Rick Price
First published in the Fort Collins Coloadoan, Sept. 5, 2011

One of the bicycle handling and safety drills that we do with elementary kids is called the “chaos box.” It teaches younger children, especially, why we have rules of the road.
A chaos box involves the creation of a thirty to forty foot square or circle on the playground or in the school parking lot. Participants are encouraged to ride anywhere inside the box without putting a foot down or losing their balance. The more kids in the box the more chaotic it becomes, sometimes to the point of gridlock which, of course, is the whole point.
The chaos box works best with younger kids since they don’t know the rules of the road. Older children or adults know, for example, to keep to the right while younger kids haven’t yet figured that out. The result with older children and adults is that soon everyone is flowing in a counterclockwise direction around the box because they know to keep to the right.
With the younger kids a teaching moment occurs when you stop everyone and suggest they try keeping right. Immediately they find that they can continue pedaling without running into one another.
I am reminded of the chaos box when I pedal across the CSU campus this time of year. The entire campus is a gigantic chaos box where the rules of the road are unclear to many. What a teaching and learning opportunity! How can we make the most of this?
With elementary kids we let chaos reign for a few minutes in the box and then we stop everyone and talk about rules of the road including keeping right, signaling, not tailgating and so on. A chaos box needs a coach or referee, in short.
Getting scofflaw cyclists to stop to hear about rules of the road doesn’t work well as they’re gone before you can say “excuse me.” So we need a plan B to stop cyclists in the CSU chaos box so we can talk to them about rules of the road.
So here’s a thought. Just two weeks ago Trevor Hughes reported in this newspaper that Molly North, Assistant Bike Coordinator for the City of Fort Collins, took up a position at West Plum and Shields Street to coach campus-bound cyclists on how to use the newly installed “bicycle box”. Mr. Hughes produced a video that may be the perfect example of how we could deploy “bicycle ambassadors” to educate novice bicyclists on how to ride before they become scofflaws.
Bicycle ambassadors teach bike safety and provide information on rules of the road, best practices, and smart cycling procedures. Imagine a cadre of 30 bicycle ambassadors deployed at most of the thirty-nine streets leading onto the CSU campus to share the smart cycling story with new students during the first two weeks of CSU classes.
This is the type of outreach that a “bicycle friendly” university should be undertaking. When can we start?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bicycle Ambassadors May Hold the Key to Educating CSU Students

In a copyrighted story in the Fort Collins Coloradoan on August 24th, staff writer Trevor Hughes reports on the initiative of the City's assistant bike coordinator, Molly North, to educate bicyclists on the use of bike boxes at the corner of East Plum and Shields Street.

The video tells the story.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teaching Young Children How to Ride a Bicycle

After publishing the following Smart Cycling column in the Fort Collins Coloradoan in July I recieved the following testimonial from the mother of a six year old in Fort Collins:

"I just wanted to thank you for your very informative column in the Coloradoan this summer about how to teach your child to ride a bike!

My daughter received her first bike at age 3 from Santa and the first time she fell off, she refused to get back on for 3 years....Last year she started to ride it again to school with her training wheels on and was laughed at by some of her school mates. I could see how this made her feel sad(she cried) and she was determined to try and ride without her training wheels. This was her goal for the summer but once again, she was scared to try. Last week, we took her pedals off and lowered her seat and she learned to get her balance gliding around our cul de sac for 2 days and then she asked her dad to put the pedals back on and she zoomed off like a pro! You should have seen the look of pride on her face for having accomplished this! She's eager to ride her bike every day now! Thank you so much!"
An Italian child learns to ride among the pigeons in old town Bergamo (Bergamo Alta).
The original column is here:
Parents teach their kids to balance and ride a bike but they often forget to teach them how to stop. As you might imagine, that can be a problem. Rules of the road are another important element that kids need to learn and one that parents don’t always teach.

Two weeks ago I wrote about teaching small children to ride by taking the pedals off their bike. Then I went camping in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains where we had a bungalow near the playground. I watched with amazement as a tiny German girl zipped around the playground on her perfectly fitted mountain bike. She had perfect technique, knew when to stand on the pedals to go up an incline, and hesitated only briefly when her father suggested she take the plunge down a steep incline.

When I spoke to her father about her skills I learned that she was four years old and has three years experience on bikes. Just the day before she had completed a forty-mile ride around the Sella Mountain Massif on her tag-along behind her father. That ride included four mountain passes and about six thousand feet of vertical climbing. Dad was exhausted but daughter was the most active kid on the playground.

So I asked how she developed her skills. He explained that when she was 18 months old she learned to balance on a “balance bike.” The name in German is “laufrad,” literally a “walk-bike.” Then at two and a half she switched to a bike with pedals and there was no holding her back. (Father was also proud to say that she had skied sixty-five days last winter!)

Balance bikes are a great alternative to removing the pedals from a small bike to teach kids how to balance. If you buy a balance bike, though, try and find one with a hand brake that works. If kids learn to use that before moving on to a bike with pedals, they will be that much farther along in learning how to stop. Alternatively, they will use their feet to stop which is ok, but not the best solution.

Once you do move your child to a real bicycle with pedals, teach them how to get on safely and to begin pedaling with their right foot in a power position. This is essential as you don’t want them to think that they always need to be able to touch the ground with two feet.

Kids who learn to ride at an early age will discover a freedom and independence that may drive mother crazy. So it is important that along with handling skills, they learn basic rules of the road, including, keeping to the right on the sidewalk, stopping at the edge of the road and at driveways, and stopping as well as “going.” Take them often to the park, including parks with BMX dirt tracks and lots of multi-use trails as in Spring Creek Community Park.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bicycle Safety Town is Coming to Fort Collins

Since Council approval of the Bicycle Safety Education Plan last March City staff have been working on the Bike Safety Town called for in the plan.  Transportation Planner Matt Wempe heads a team that includes Craig Foreman, Parks Planner, and Dave Kemp, City Bike Coordinator.

The City's web site explains the project in detail beginning with the following:

"What if there was a place your family could practice safe cycling skills? The recently adopted Bicycle Safety Education Plan recommended the City construct a bicycle safety town to do just that. A bicycle safety town is a “miniature city,” complete with streets, bike lanes, and traffic signs. Families, adults, and children can all use the town to practice safe cycling skills as well as participate in classes hosted by the City and other community partners." (

Further documents identify safety towns in different communities across the country.  Frisco, Texas, for example has a safety town run by the fire department.  They have formal educational programs for different age groups, including:
  • Kindergartners:  Introduction to 911and emergency services;
  • 1st grade: Motor Vehicle and Pedestrian Safety;
  • 2nd grade:  Fire Safety and Burn Prevention;
  • 3rd grade:  Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety;
  • 4th grade:  Severe Weather and Disaster Preparedness; and
  • 5th grade:  Internet Safety and Personal Information Awareness.
Peoria, Illinois has a strictly "Bicycle Safety Town," built in the 1950s on almost four acres of land and including 4,000 linear feet of bike lanes and simulated streets.  Click here to find references to other bike safety towns on the City's web site. 

As a part of the planning for this bike safety town City staff has posted a survey online.  The purpose of the survey is to help staff  "understand how you would like to use the town and where would be a good location."   The deadline for your input is August 19, 2011.

The City's Bicycle Advisory Committee has suggested that the bike town be placed in an existing City park, centrally located with easy access by bike trail and Transfort services.  The sites being considered are about one acre in size in such parks as Rolland Moore, Edora, Beattie, and Troutman. 

Send your ideas to City staff by completing the questionaire at this link.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Make your Town a Better Bike Town!

by Rick Price

Mia Birk’s book Joyride: Pedaling toward a Healthier Planet, is a “how-to manual” for creating a first class bicycle community. Anyone in government or anyone interested in bicycle advocacy would benefit from reading Birk as a way to put their community on the right track to becoming bicycle friendly.

Birk recounts a perfect storm of events when she became Bicycle Coordinator in Portland in 1993. The US Congress had just funded the first six-year federal transportation package that included a small allocation for “Transportation Enhancements.” “Enhancements” were meant to fund transit, bicycling and walking facilities as Congress attempted to counter the “roads only” policies of state departments of transportation. This enabled states and cities like Fort Collins, Boulder in Colorado and Corvallis, Eugene, and Portland, Oregon to write bicycle plans and to hire bicycle coordinators.

In Portland in 1990 the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) had been founded, and was to become one of the most active advocacy groups in the nation. Earl Blumenauer, now Congressman from Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District and founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, was Portland’s Commissioner of Public Utilities. With Blumenauer’s support and with the backing of the BTA Birk set out to make Portland, a city of 500,000 people, a friendlier place to ride a bicycle.

As she explains in Joyride Birk had a series of revelations during the first years of her job that opened her eyes to the challenges she faced. Despite enjoying great support in the bicycle community, she noted that “if I spend my time preachin’ to the gospel choir, the bicycle revolution isn’t going to spread very far.” Additionally, when Portland’s traffic engineers suggested that rather than stripe bicycle lanes, they get the police to enforce the law to encourage more cyclists, she noted “the police won’t even talk to me [as bicycle coordinator] let alone” enforce the rules of the road to protect cyclists.

Another revelation came after her third annual bike to work day when Birk asked herself, “is this helping to get more people out riding? Is my time best spent running events like this, or working on bikeway projects?” The answer, she found, was that she needed to mobilize the non-bicyclists in town, build bike paths and lanes, and to become more of a catalyst in bringing people together to change the culture in order to get reluctant cyclists on their bikes. “It’s not enough to adopt a Bicycle Plan” she wrote, “we’ve got to retrain all the humans involved, both inside and outside government.”
So Birk began with neighborhood meetings at Denny’s. Then she met with the Lions Club. Once she was fully underway she was meeting with “business groups, ethnic groups, neighborhood associations, school groups, churches” and as she explains it, “pretty much anyone who” would listen in a series of sixty meetings across Portland.
The results of Birk’s work are impressive to the degree that Joyride should be required reading for anyone who wants to see bicycle ridership increase in their community.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fort Collins to Launch Share the Road Campaign

Fort Collins will launch a share the road campaign urging all road users to be tolerant of one another and to share the road appropriately.  Watch for these banners to launch this campaign.  

Fort Collins participated in a pilot project over the winter to explore community solutions to making roads safer for all users.  Participants in the ad hoc committee that met included bicycle advocates, injury prevention practitioners, pedestrians, and drivers education instructors, among others.  The share the road banner above will be displayed in the community to publicize the campaign.  Fort Collins and Colorado Springs were selected for this project because of the high rates of bicycle crashes in the two communities.

May is Bike to School Safety Month in Fort Collins

By Rick Price, Ph.D.
First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan May 2, 2011

May is “National Bike Month” but in Colorado we’ve celebrated June as “bike month” since 1995 (something about snow in May).  Indeed, the official “bike week” in Fort Collins is the last week of June and bike to work day is the fourth Wednesday of June. 
A group of middle school students from Dan Schrom's PE class at Lincoln Middle School poses on a bike field trip along the Poudre Trail in Fort Collins.  The students had three weeks of bike safety lessons in April 2011 under the City's Safe Routes to School program in collaboration with the Fort Collins Bike Co-op.

Having June as official Bike Month leaves the kids out.  So thanks to several local school champions, teachers, parents and volunteer bicycle advocates we will celebrate National Bike Month this month.  Join the ride!

May 2 – 6 is Bike to school week at Lesher Middle School where math teacher Rob Breshears is coordinating the Biking Vikings for the third year.   Ride your bike every day this week and get a variety of perks including a free t-shirt, a free light or bell, a bike tune-up from Full Cycle bike mechanics, breakfast on Thursday, a demonstration of wheel building from Phoenix Cyclery, and a chance to win a free bike for all those who participated in Walking and Wheeling Wednesdays through April.
May 12 is the All-school Car-free Bike & Walk to School Day at Laurel Elementary. Bevin Barber-Campbell, a parent volunteer who moved from Bozeman, Montana last fall, has taken over coordination of the Bike to School Program at Laurel and is excited to promote the district’s first “car-free” bike and walk to school day.   Check with the main office at Laurel for details on the “walking school bus” and “bike train” that all students are encouraged to join. 
May 7 & May 14 (both Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 noon) the Bike Co-op will hold a kids bike swap and bike helmet clinic.  While teaching in our schools the past four months I saw that 90% of the kids in town are riding bikes that are too small for them.  So the bike swap will encourage families to bring bikes in that are too big or too small and trade them with a neighbor for the right sized bike.  The swap will operate in the Bike Co-op parking lot at 331 North College Avenue.  For more information visit

May 19 – 20 Bauder Elementary will take their 4th and 5th graders on a bike field trip with PE teacher Chris West.  This is the second year that Coach West has done this after three weeks of bicycle safety instruction in PE classes.  Chris is providing a great example of how to teach our kids bike safety in regular classes and the kids all look forward to this field trip. 

May 28, a Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. FCBikes is offering a Kids II bicycle clinic at Northside Aztlan Center for 5th and 6th graders.  This is a seven-hour on-bike skills class that teaches safe cycling on neighborhood streets and bike trails.  Contact for information.

Check with the main office in your kids’ schools for other events and begin planning now for your own bike to school events next year.  

Mountain Avenue Sharrows (Shared Lane Arrows) Installed in Old Town Fort Collins

City of Fort Collins Streets Department workers install sharrows on East Mountain Avenue near the corner of Mountain and Remington on May 3, 2011.  This is an innovation in Fort Collins where sharrows have been tested in the past but not installed in Old Town.  "Sharrows" or shared lane arrows are large stencils that indicate to both motorists and bicyclists that the outside lanes on Mountain Avenue from Howes Street east to Riverside Avenue are to be shared and that bicyclists should use the center of the lane.  This moves bicyclists out of the danger zone behind diagonally parked cars and into the center of the lane where they share the lane with cars single file rather than side by side.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Teacher's Guide for Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park

Teachers Guide by Gretchen Behrens Lenart

 Barbara Park's book is a great introduction to bike safety and why kids should wear a helmet for 3rd through 8th grade.

For the book  review about Mick Harte was Here click this link.

(Lenart prepared the first draft of this Teacher's Guide in May 2000 as part of her Health and Safety Studies Internship as a student at California State University, Sacramento. This work was completed under the direction of the Bicycle Head Injury Prevention Program of the California Department of Health Services, State and Local Injury Control Section under a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[Grant U17/CCU911095 October 1, 1997 - September 30, 2000])

Her whole world has been turned upside down….How could someone like Phoebe’s brother die?  Mick Harte was one of the neatest kids you’d ever want to meet—the kid who freaked his mom out by putting a ceramic eye in a defrosted chicken; who went trick-or-treating as Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the modern day flush toilet; who did a wild solo dance in front of the whole school.

Mick was also the kid who would still be alive now—if he’d only worn his bicycle helmet….
Reading Level    4.8          
Pages         88    
Chapters    9              
1995        Random House Publishers      
(800) 733-3000    ISBN 0-679-88203-0      
Price    $4.99

Mick Harte Was Here
can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways to reinforce messages about wearing helmets, traffic safety and dealing with issues of grief and loss while providing engaging characters and yes, humorous reading.

Recreation, Transportation and Sports

There are so many wonderful sports today that are appealing and fun.  Riding bicycles, scooters, skateboards and skates are just a few.  The growth of "extreme sports" is attracting TV and video viewership among our children, both boys and girls.

Wearing Helmets

Promoting life long physical activity is important, but it is also important to understand how to participate in sports safely.  While fun and promoting physical activity, these sports all have risks and recommen-dations for appropriate safety equipment.   Sadly, children often are unable to internalize risks personally and believe that "it won't happen to me" or that safety equipment is uncool.

Traffic Safety

Our communities are congested with vehicles of all kinds.  While "sharing the road" with bicycles and other modes of transportation is being promoted, universal awareness and practice have not been achieved.   Bicycles are not toys, they are vehicles and are covered by state vehicle codes.  Learning to properly care for and ride a bike is a child's first driver's education opportunity.

Grief and Loss

Almost every child experiences grief or is affected by the grief of a family member or friend.  For many children their first experience with death is with a beloved pet or grandparent.  But often there are other losses for which children grieve.  These may include divorce, separation, crime and violence, friends moving away or the family relocating.  Learning about these issues and ways to deal with the intense feelings are important life lessons.
Major Characters

Phoebe Harte

An eighth grade student.  She is the narrator of the story.  She loved to tease her brother, and instigate fake fights.  She thought of her brother as family and as a friend.  After his death, she went into shock.  Once it hit her that her brother would never come home again, she felt bitter, angry, and guilty.  She feels the deepest love for her brother.  The memories about her brother helped her cope with the heart wrenching grief she went through along with her Mom and Dad.
Mick Harte

A seventh grade student.  He lived life to the fullest.  He loved to tease his sister, and have playful fights.  He was always filled with energy and excitement.  A bicycle crash ended his life at the age of 12.  If he had been wearing a helmet, chances are he would have survived.
Supporting Characters


A chemist who is methodical and organized.  Before Mick died she had her whole family on a strict schedule that was to be followed religiously every day.  Her family is precious to her and it was shown through her actions.  She placed their needs before her own on a daily basis.  She completely withdrew when Mick died.  She took sleeping pills and she was depressed.  She seemed to be in a catatonic state most of the time.  

A chemist who is also methodical and organized.  A proud man who expects to be heard when he says something the first time.  He shows love for his family when he tries to shield them from getting hurt.  He is very neat, and does not shift his morning routine because it might throw his entire day off.  He was very casual in the mornings when he walked around with his boxers, socks and       T-shirt on.  After Mick died, his appearance became sloppier.  He didn’t express his feelings, and he shut himself off to the real world.
Zoe Santos

A good friend to both Phoebe and Mick.  She provided a great safety net for Phoebe as she grieved for Mick.  She was able to help Phoebe tremendously by observing that now “Mick was everywhere.”  This helped comfort Phoebe.

Coach Brodie

Phoebe’s soccer coach  
Mrs. Berryhill

Junior High School Principal  
Mrs. Santos

Zoe’s mother  

Phoebe and Mick’s grandmother.  She was able to finally get Phoebe and her parents to eat together again as a family.

Chapter    Summary


Pages 3-13  
Phoebe tells the reader that her brother Mick is dead, and then tells his story.  Mick had a great sense of fun and was excellent at imitating voices.  Phoebe has fond memories of the trouble they used to get into together.  She and Mick loved to play fight.  Usually their parents did not like it, but that was part of the appeal for them.  Their parents expected them to resolve differences in a "civilized and resourceful manner" and her mother always wanted a strict schedule followed so that her kids would not get the opportunity to misbehave.  The day Mick died, they had been fighting and wrestling, Phoebe called Mick a really bad name.  Later, she regretted it since she would never be able to apologize.  This was hard because even though they fought, they liked each other a lot.  They even got into trouble together.  The first time was when Mick was in Kindergarten and they wrote in the fresh cement that had been poured next to the house.



Pages 14-24  
Not looking like a doofus was important to Mick, he was concerned about the way he looked, especially after he found out that he had worn a christening gown as an infant.  Phoebe also thought that a lot of girls had crushes on Mick.

As they walk to school together Phoebe tells Zoe (her best friend) about the bad name that she called Mick.  Zoe reassures her that Mick will quickly get over being mad at Phoebe as he always does.  During lunch at school, Mick asks if Phoebe or Zoe can ride his bike home because he wanted to go to a friend’s house.  Both of them said they couldn't do it.

While Phoebe is at soccer practice, she hears an ambulance's siren, then the school secretary runs to speak to her coach, who comes to Phoebe with the news.  Phoebe feels numb, until she sees Mick’s bike in the road and begins to cry.  She goes to Zoe's house while her parents are at the hospital.  She prays that Mick will be ok.  She and Zoe talk about Mick's outrageous Halloween costumes.


The Serengeti Sucks

Pages 25-35  
Phoebe’s Dad picks her up from her friend’s house, and she knows immediately something is terribly wrong.  Her Dad wipes away tears, and whispers that Mick is “gone.”  When they get home most of the lights are off, so Phoebe immediately turns on all the lights.  All she feels is emptiness inside.  When her Dad tries to shut Mick’s bedroom door Phoebe yells at him to stop.  Her Dad breaks down sobbing, and Phoebe feels helpless.  Looking inside Mick’s room, she remembers how much Mick loved his dog, Wocket.

Phoebe and her parents stop eating dinner together because they never had appetites and they didn't want to face Mick’s empty chair.  Phoebe’s Mom stays in her pajamas all the time, never brushes her hair, and her face is puffy from pill-induced sleep and crying.  After Mick is cremated, they plan the memorial service.  Many family and friends call offering words of wisdom or stop by with food.  Phoebe feels like the nights are extremely long since her brother is not there.


Pages 36-43  
Zoe calls Phoebe a lot to see how she is doing, and to let her know that she is not alone.  Zoe tells her that a grief counselor came to the school for students to talk to if they were having a hard time coping with Mick’s death.  Lots of kids were upset about Mick's death, especially his friends Danny Monroe and Rickie Bowie.  This doesn’t make Phoebe feel much better, because she feels like Mick’s death should be private.  Zoe says that the grief counselor stressed the importance of talking about Mick.  Phoebe didn’t want to hear anymore, because she doesn't care what the counselor thought.  Phoebe thought if she started to feel better, she was being disloyal to Mick.

She stops by Mick’s room and notices how much junk he had collected, and she started to remember things.  Mick called the junk his treasures.  Mick had a fetish about flies, and he took fly swatters around with him everywhere he went.  Phoebe’s memories helped her laugh, and somewhere she felt that Mick was laughing too.  Later that day she wants to talk to her Mom about Mick, but her Mom was not up to it yet.  Phoebe got angry and left.  She ends up at the site where Mick got in his crash, and she started to cry.


Tap Dancing on God’s Piano

Pages 44-53  
Phoebe is very rebellious and tries to get back at her Mom.  Every opportunity she gets, she makes sure to mention Mick’s name loud enough for her Mom to hear it.  When her Mom finally confronts her about it, she runs up to her room crying.  Phoebe is angry with Mick for doing this to their family.  She calls Zoe, because she knows she can talk to her about anything.

Later, Phoebe and her parents go to Mick’s interment.  When they got home, she is upset so she immediately calls Zoe again.  Zoe comes over to her house to talk with her about Mick.  Phoebe really struggles to figure out what "heaven" means and what God does.  When Zoe tells Phoebe that maybe Mick is everywhere, things make more sense for her.  Right before they go to sleep, Zoe lightens the mood by saying that Mick might be in the clouds tap dancing on God’s piano like he got kicked out of choir practice for doing.


Getting a Grip

Pages 54-62  
Phoebe explains that the reason Mick wanted to be cremated was that he got sick over seeing the body in the casket when their Great-grandmother Harte died and they went to her service.  Phoebe remembers her Mom stating that at her funeral she wanted a street parade with jazz band music.

It was time for Mick’s memorial service, and Phoebe is hesitant because she did not want people judging her appearance when the focus should be on her brother.  On the drive to the service Phoebe makes sure not to cross the imaginary line that separates Mick’s side from her side.  Phoebe sees strands of gray in her mother's hair that she never noticed before.  It touches her so deeply that she puts her hand on it.  Her Mom responds by touching her hand and then touching her Dad’s hand so that they are all linked together even though a piece of their family is missing.

The memorial service is crowded, and as they walk to their pew, Phoebe kept telling herself to “act natural.”  Although at the same time she did not know why she had to please others with her behavior.  During the service some of Mick’s friends got up and spoke about him.  Then, it was Phoebe’s turn, and she told a story about a Mother’s Day card that Mick had written when he was mad at his Mom for not letting him get a tattoo.


Dogs Can Laugh in Heaven

Pages 63-74  
Phoebe returns to school the week after the service.  She gets sick to her stomach when she hears a boy in the hall say, “There’s the sister of the dead kid.”  She immediately shoves him up against the wall and says, “Don’t you ever call my brother the ‘dead kid’ again, do you hear me?”

By lunch, Phoebe is shocked that no one has said they were sorry about the pain she felt.  Even when she was eating with some friends, no one mentioned Mick’s name.  Phoebe finally breaks the silence and tells them that she would be fine if they talked about Mick.  This does not help much, because the conversation feels forced and Phoebe feels the tension.  Phoebe decides that she is not ready to be at school yet.  She goes to see Mrs. Berryhill so she can go home.  However, when Mrs. Berryhill tells Phoebe that she was sorry for her "loss," Phoebe gets upset and runs home because she hasn't misplaced Mick.

When she gets home she heads straight for Mick’s room lies on his bed and breathes in the scent of him.  Phoebe falls asleep had has a dream in which she sees Wocket and Mick running towards her.  In the dream she is wrestling with Mick the way they always used to play with one another.  She also dreams that Wocket is laughing at them.  Phoebe wakes herself up laughing.  Her Mom is standing in the doorway looking at her, and Phoebe tells her about the good dream.  Phoebe and her Mom share memories about Mick and actually laugh about them.  Her Mom enters the room, lays down beside Phoebe and strokes her hair, asking to hear more about her dream.

That night, Nana makes dinner and forces Phoebe and her parents to eat together at new places at the table.  Phoebe thinks her Nana has done an amazing thing, because they were all at the dinner table and they were not thinking about Mick’s empty chair.


Common Sense and Good Judgment

Pages 75-81  
There is a dangerous intersection close to Phoebe’s house that her Dad griped about all the time.  Finally, after numerous crashes they put in a stoplight.  But when someone ran a red light, her Dad noted that traffic lights would not make people use common sense and good judgement while driving.  While he was saying this, he almost caused a minor crash.  That ended his talk about using common sense.  Phoebe says that if you luck out enough times when doing stupid things, you start to believe you are invincible, she never wore shin guards for soccer until she got kicked.  Her Mom had never been badly sun burned, but on their anniversary she got a second-degree burn at the beach.  Mick refused to wear a helmet, because he thought it looked goofy and he had never crashed before on his bike. Phoebe can't forget or forgive about the mistake her brother made.

At school, Phoebe is called to Mrs. Berryhill’s office.  When she gets there she learns that the PTA wants her to tell Mick’s story at a big assembly on bike safety.  At first, Phoebe declines the request, but later she changes her mind.

There are eight hundred people in the gym when Phoebe gives her speech.  She talks about Mick and tells stories about him that make the kids laugh until she brings out the bike helmet Mick's parents gave him for his 10th birthday.  There is a gasp and then silence and her message really hits home that if Mick had been wearing his helmet he probably would still be alive today, but he said it made him "look like a dork."



Pages 82-88  
Phoebe is not sure if her speech will make a difference as far as helping people use better judgement than Mick did when riding a bike. The doctors said that just an inch of Styrofoam would have made the difference between his living and dying.
It has been a month since Mick died.  Things have gotten a little better at home because Phoebe’s Mom went back to work part-time and her Nana went home.  They still eat dinner together at their new places.  Since Mick’s death, Phoebe and her parents have gained a different perspective on life.  Phoebe laughs more often now but still feels guilty when she's having too good a time.

Phoebe is trying to deal with the guilt she feels from not riding Mick’s bike home for him.  Phoebe honestly feels that she could have saved Mick’s life if she had done what he asked her to do.  On a ride home from a soccer game she tells her Dad about it while she cries.  Her Dad tells her that there could be numerous “what if” situations that might have saved Mick.  Her Dad feels guilty too, because he knew he could have forced Mick to wear his helmet.  Phoebe’s heart breaks when she hears her Dad talk that way.

It is the official one-month anniversary of the crash.  Phoebe is at soccer practice, and when it is over she sits on the sidelines by herself.  She recalls good memories of Mick.  There are noisy workmen nearby setting new bleachers in concrete.  When they leave, Phoebe notices the wet cement.  She writes “Mick Harte Was Here” in the cement, because it will last forever.

Chapter    Chapter Title    Page    Difficult  Words    Definitions
1    Mick    4  
    resisting authority
3    The Serengeti Sucks    25  
    area in North Tanzania, a developing nation in East Africa
    to reduce a body after death to ashes by burning
5    Tap Dancing on God’s Piano    48    interment    the ceremony of depositing a dead body or an urn with ashes in the earth
or a tomb
9    Forever    83  
    relative importance 

Helmet Use and Bicycle Safety

Bike Safety is a great classroom learning opportunity and lends itself well to activities "across the curriculum."

•    Measuring dimensions of a bike frame
•    Measuring the distance traveled in miles
•    Calculating speed in miles per hour
•    Calculating cost to purchase and maintain a bicycle

•    Inventions necessary for the bicycle to be developed
•    Understanding how spokes and tires work
•    Understanding how gears work
•    Understanding how the shell, helmet and straps of a helmet work together to protect the head

•    Mick Harte Was Here can be adapted for any language arts management style.
•    A variety of writing assignments can be utilized.
•    Understanding new words

Community Service
•    Teach bike safety skills to younger grades
•    Under adult supervision, conduct safety checks on the bicycles of younger students, make minor repairs (air pressure in tires, adjust/tighten seat and handlebars)
•    With an adult volunteer, help plan and conduct a low cost bulk helmet purchase campaign for the school (for free "how-to" manual, contact

Social Studies
•    Development of the bicycle
•    Create a neighborhood map, identifying safer routes for cycling to popular youth destinations and identifying potential hazards
•    Report findings to local city transportation planning department
•    Learn about the state vehicle code as it applies to bikes
•    Learn about the bicycle as part of a cost-effective transportation network
•    Learn about transportation energy use and related environmental impacts--such as air, noise, and water pollution and solid waste.

Health and Safety/Consumer Skills
•    Learn how to properly fit and wear a bicycle helmet
•    Learn about the Consumer Product Safety Commission and bicycle helmet standards
•    Learn how to maintain a bicycle for safety (most communities have bike shops or riding clubs that may be willing to make a classroom presentations)
•    Practicing safe riding (most law enforcement agencies provide personnel to make classroom presentations and will collaborate on conducting bicycle skill building activities, often referred to as bike rodeos)
•    Biking as part of life long recreation and physical activity
•    Maintaining mileage logs as an incentive for cycling
•    Planning and conducting neighborhood family and friends bike rides

Issues of Grief and Loss

Character    Immediate Reactions to Mick’s Death
Denial, shock, resentment, guilt, and loving memories – She felt like she had lost her brother until a friend pointed out that even though he died, he is still “everywhere.”

Withdrawn, depressed and heart broken – She never wanted to hear or say Mick’s name, and she couldn’t get up for work for awhile.

Sad, withdrawn, and grief stricken – He was overwhelmed with strong emotions that he was not sure how to handle, and he felt guilty for not making Mick wear his helmet.

Some of the ways other characters respond to the family’s grief

Both family and friends called to see how Phoebe and her parents were holding up.  It seemed with the words of encouragement there was always a reference to God having a plan for Mick.  Numerous neighbors stopped by with food for Phoebe and her parents to show their concern.

Zoe (Phoebe’s best friend) – She makes sure that Phoebe knows that there is a shoulder to cry on if it is needed.  She talks with Phoebe about how she feels and their memories of Mick.
    Mrs. Berryhill (School Principal) – She responds to Phoebe’s grief by telling her that she lost her mother two years ago.  She was trying to establish a common connection with Phoebe, so that Phoebe might want to open up to her.
Mrs. Santos (Zoe's mother) –  She helps Phoebe’s parents by watching over her while they were at the hospital taking care of Mick.  She also dropped off some food for Phoebe and her parents.
    Cara Cook, Lindy Nelson, and Amy Lightner (Phoebe’s friends at school) – They were afraid to say Mick’s name after Phoebe came back to school.  After Phoebe told them it was fine for them to say his name, all of them seemed hesitant.  They felt uneasy, because they did not want to say something that would upset Phoebe even more.

Coach Brodie – When Mick initially crashes, she gives Phoebe a hug.  When Phoebe comes back to school, but is still not feeling well, she lets her leave soccer practice.   The coach shows understanding and patience.
Nana (Phoebe and Mick's grandmother) – She came from Florida for Mick’s memorial service, and while she was visiting she was able to get Phoebe and her parents acting like a family again at the dinner table.  She rearranged where they usually sat at the table.  For the first time, no one was focusing on Mick’s empty chair at the dinner table.

What Phoebe Does To Grieve For Mick

Phoebe tells Mick's story.  She experiences a variety of emotions--denial, anger, resentment, fear, depression and guilt in coming to terms with her brother's death.  Phoebe was shocked when she heard about her brother.    She found it hard to think about the crash so focused on insignificant things such as the Principal's bad breath.  She kept tight control over her emotions, because if she did not acknowledge that it happened than she thought it might be possible that it was a terrible mistake.

When she finally acknowledges that Mick was in a bike crash, she prays that it is someone else.  Phoebe gasps when she sees Mick’s bike in the road, and her friend Zoe tries to comfort her.  Phoebe feels insulted by this, because she does not want to believe that it is possible that Mick could be seriously hurt.  Phoebe tries to keep the bad thoughts out of her head by thinking of memories of Mick.  The one she was able to laugh about with Zoe was what Mick did for Halloween one year.  That Halloween, Mick went as Thomas Crapper, the guy who invented the modern-day flush toilet.

When she is told that her brother died at the hospital Phoebe is afraid.  When she arrives at her house it is dark and she turns on every light she finds.  Before her Dad goes to bed he shuts Mick’s bedroom door, but Phoebe insists that he open it again.  Her Dad begins to cry and she feels numb from the impact of all that has happened.

Phoebe recalls the memory of Mick's love for his dog, Wocket.  Even after Wocket had to be put to sleep, Phoebe would sometimes catch Mick starting to go feed his dog.  The way Mick felt about his dog is similar to the way Phoebe felt about Mick.  Phoebe thinks of other stories about Mick.

Phoebe tries to talk to her Mom about Mick.  She was curious if her Mom thought Mick could hear them.  Her Mom wasn't able to help, she couldn't even say her son’s name.  Phoebe resented her Mom because she thought

her Mom was only thinking about herself.  Phoebe finds herself at the site where her brother had last been with his bike and she cries.

Phoebe punishes her Mom by making sure to mention Mick’s name as often and loud as she could.  Phoebe gets angry at Mick for leaving and making the family fall apart.  She cries again, and she called Zoe because she needed someone to listen to her.  The advice from her friend enabled her to have some peace of mind.  The idea Zoe offered was that Mick was “everywhere,” and that is what heaven might represent.

Whenever Phoebe rode in the car she made sure to sit on her side, leaving Mick’s side empty as if to say that she had not forgotten about him.  She spoke at Mick’s memorial service, because she felt like someone from her family should.  When she felt like she was barely hanging on she liked to go into Mick’s bedroom, lay on his bed and breathe in the smell of him.   Phoebe had a good dream about Mick and Wocket.

Phoebe’s Dad helped her sort through some of her grief by giving her “what if”scenarios, so that she could deal with feeling guilty about not riding Mick’s bike home.  Phoebe's Dad felt guilty too about not making Mick wear his helmet.  They were able to ease the guilt that both felt by talking about it to one another.

The last thing Phoebe did was to use some cement to symbolize how her brother would be with her forever.  Writing in cement together was one of the first times they got in trouble together.  Phoebe wrote M-I-C-K  H-A-R-T-E  W-A-S  H-E-R-E.
 Questions for Self-study
•    Chapter 1, page 3
Mick's crash happened when:
a.    a car cut in front of him
b.    his tire hit a rock
c.    he ran a stop sign
d.    a truck hit him from behind

•    Chapter 4, page 37
To deal with Mick's death, the
Grief Counselor recommended
a.    saying Mick's name
b.    talking about Mick
c.    both a and b
d.    none of the above

•    Chapter 8, page 78/79
When Phoebe is asked to speak at the PTA assembly she thinks:
a.    it is a great idea right away
b.    it should have happened sooner
c.    the PTA lady really understands how she feels

Who Was Affected By Mick's Death?
Family            Kid Friends          
Phoebe Harte        Zoe Santos  
Mick's Mom            Danny Monroe
Mick's Dad            Rickie Bowie

Other Adults        Others
Mrs. Santos            Kids at school
Coach Brodie        Mick's teachers
Mrs. Berryhill        Family friends
School Secretary      
Grief Counselor
Parents of kids at school

Mick Harte was Here Bike Safety Book by Barbara Park Should Be Required Reading for 3rd through 8th Grades

Book Review by Rick Price, Ph.D.

Award winning children’s author Barbara Park wrote a book in the mid-1990s that should be required reading for upper level elementary and Middle School kids.  Mick Harte was Here is an excellent component in a bicycle safety curriculum for kids from 3rd through 8th grade. 

Rated by the publisher at grade level 4.8 this 88 page chapter book delivers a solid lesson on bicycle safety and the importance of using a bicycle helmet directly to the audience that needs it most:  3rd grade through middle school.

The book is narrated by Phoebe Harte, the 8th grade sister of Mick who was killed in a bike crash when he was twelve years and five months old.  After her brother’s death Phoebe is faced with a roller coaster of emotions, as you might expect.  So is the entire family, of course. 

Park does a wonderful job of describing how the family deals with death, a funeral, grieving, and the resulting change in perspective for the entire family.  One passage resonates with me especially.  My mother, who was a high school English teacher, made it clear to her students and her family that when she died she wanted us all to confront her death head on.  “I don’t want any talk of my ‘passing way,’ she would explain.  “When I die, I’m dead!”  Park has her narrator explode at the school counselor who tries to console her for her “loss.”  Says Phoebe, “I didn’t just misplace him or leave him behind on a bus somewhere.  He died, okay?  Mick died.  But he will never – ever – be lost.”

I have had third graders and third grade teachers tell me that this is a great book to use in conjunction with guest speakers on the importance using bike helmets.  Indeed, this is a book that has breadth and depth for older elementary and middle school kids.  It can be used in conjunction with all types of Safe Routes to School programs, helmet programs, and bike safety curricula in general.

Parents Should Set Example for Kids in Wearing Helmets

 First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
April 18, 2011
by Rick Price, Ph.D.

If you are one of those parents that I see on the bike path who makes the kids wear a helmet while you pedal without one, this column is for you.  Oh yes, and you school teachers who bicycle to school without a helmet? It’s for you, too.  Kids imitate the adults around them.   If you don’t wear a helmet that tells your kids that helmets aren’t important.  

                                          Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France, July 22, 2004. 
                                          (Photo by Rick Price)

Kids are six and a half times more likely to crash their bike than an experienced adult.  Maybe parents know this.  And they may also know that almost half of children 14 and under hospitalized for bicycle-related injuries are diagnosed with a brain injury.  But do they know that by not wearing a helmet themselves they are effectively discouraging their middle school age kid from using a helmet?  In fact, only 11% of kids between the age of 11 and 14 wear a helmet. 

I believe that wearing a helmet is the last one of four things you should do and teach your kids to do in order to be a safe cyclist.  The first three things are 1) follow the rules of the road; 2) be predictable; and 3) be visible.   

In the fifty-six years or so that I’ve been riding a bicycle I can remember seven falls as an adult.  I’ve never hit my head seriously, but I’ve had a helmet on every time I’ve fallen.  I tell kids that I ride enough that I expect to fall again, despite my experience.  And with my goal of riding until I’m 90 I can’t really afford a brain injury. 

Macho, usually male, 4th graders often tell me:  “I don’t wear a helmet; I never fall off my bike.”  I suspect that these 4th graders are merely repeating something that they’ve heard an older male relative say. 

At one elementary school last month we invited one fourth grader into several of the PE classes to show us the scars on his face from a fall.  He had a new helmet at home that he got at a school bike rodeo.  But he didn’t have it on the day he hit a patch of gravel and took a spill.  He broke a tooth and visited the hospital but fortunately did no serious damage.

A few statistics help to make the point that kids should wear bike helmets:  1) helmets reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent; 2) nationally only 41 percent of child bicyclists use a helmet; 3) 80% of bicycle-related fatalities among kids 14 and under are caused by unsafe bicycle behavior including riding into the street without stopping, swerving into traffic, running stop signs, and riding against the flow of traffic.

Of course, if we could just eliminate the crashes we wouldn’t need to wear helmets.  But we’re not there yet.  Please wear your helmet as an example for our kid’s if for nothing else.