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.