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?

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