Oak Park Getting Children’s Bike Fleet, “Kids on Wheels” Is Expanding

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Kids get ready to ride a skills course at an Oak Park school. Photo: Active Trans

Last weekend, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced that Oak Park will receive a $12,000 federal Safe Routes to School grant to purchase a trailer, bicycles, helmets and supporting materials for its local Kids on Wheels education program. This will likely be the first time SRTS funds have been used for a fleet of training bikes, according to Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Ted Villaire.

The advocacy group created Kids on Wheels last spring, as a mobile program to bring bike-ed to municipalities across the region. “Since Oak Park will be buying their own gear, this will be a nice, natural transition to their program becoming all theirs,” said Active Trans education specialist Jason Jenkins.

The Oak Park grant is part of $5.9 million in new federal awards that IDOT announced for 58 different safe routes initiatives in many Illinois communities. “Students deserve to feel safe while traveling to and from school every day,” Governor Pat Quinn said in a statement. “The Safe Routes to School program will help communities improve public safety to keep students safe, and promote healthy habits like walking and biking to school.” The projects also include infrastructure improvements like sidewalk installation and repair, pedestrian countdown signals, speed feedback signs, pedestrian islands, and police speed enforcement equipment.

In May, Active Trans launched Kids on Wheels (originally Bikes on Wheels) with Oak Park as the pilot community. The advocacy group purchased a 20-foot trailer using using its own money, plus a donation from Oak Park’s Green Line Wheels, a local nonprofit that offers bike rentals and tours. Specialized Bicycles donated 30 single-speed kids’ bikes through a dealer grant via Chicago’s Kozy’s Cyclery.

In that first season, Active Trans staffers took the trailer to seven of Oak Park’s eight elementary schools and taught kids bike safety basics, assisted by teachers, local police officers, and parent volunteers, Jenkins said. The children were taught proper helmet use and how to do an “ABC Quick Check” to make sure their bike’s air pressure, brakes, chain, and quick releases are up to snuff.

The children practiced hand signals, turning, checking for traffic, and braking on a skills course. They also learned how to do a “Power Start,” positioning their pedals at the 2:00 / 8:00 position for maximum go. They even got to compete in a “Snail’s Race,” seeing who could ride the slowest without falling over.

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Police officers helped out with running the skills course. Photo: Active Trans

“It’s really fun and rewarding to teach kids how to ride bikes safely,” said phys ed teacher Margaret Garcia from Mann Elementary. She helped out with this year’s Kids on Wheels program, and served as the liaison between Active Trans and the school district for the SRTS grant application. “Having a trailer full of bikes helped tremendously.”

This year’s program served 638 students over about 60 programmatic hours, Jenkins said. During the summer, the Oak Park park district used the trailer and cycles for a summer camp that took students to forest preserves to bike and hike on trails.

Active Trans recently raised money to purchase a second trailer and materials via donations from members, plus a matching grant from an anonymous benefactor, according to Jenkins. The group is hoping that Specialized will provide another 30 bikes.

This spring, the original Kids on Wheels bikes will return to Oak Park schools, with phys ed teachers leading the classes, assisted by Active Trans staff, police officers, and parents. Using their second trailer, Active Trans will also run a program in Northbrook, plus one or more programs in the west or south suburbs, and possibly some Chicago neighborhoods. “We’re looking to add a low-income community prioritization component as well,” Jenkins said. “We’d like to work in more diverse and underserved communities.”

Once they purchase their own trailer and cycles, Oak Park will be able to share the gear between schools, like they already do with gymnastics equipment, Garcia said. The park district will continue to use the bikes during the summer and maintain them. She hopes to use the trailer to take her students on a field trip to ride the Busse Woods Bike Trail. “I want them to see how fun it can be riding bikes together.”

Contact education[at]activetrans.org or call Jenkins at 773-505-2657 for info about bringing Kids on Wheels to your community.

  • tooter turtle

    I had instruction on rules of the road and safe riding as a kid, several decades ago. I learned great habits that have served me well over thousands of miles of riding on two continents. In my daily riding in Chicago, I see that most riders never had this instruction, and I cringe when I see some of the stupid and dangerous things they do. Educating kids is one of the most important things we can do to promote cycling for transportation.

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