Since the introduction of the “age of the bicycle” in the 1800s most people have ridden a bicycle either for recreation or for transportation at some point in their lives. In fact, up until the 1970s, nearly half of all children in the United States rode bicycles to school as their primary mode of transportation. Since then, there has been a steady decline in the number of students bicycling to school due to environmental infrastructure issues surrounding schools, increased distances from home to school as “suburban America” became developed, and most of all, safety concerns. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, while bicycle participation rates of middle school children in Miami Dade County are relatively low compared to other modes of transportation, the bicycle-related injury rate for this age group (ages 10-14) is the highest compared to all other pediatric age groups. The resultant apprehension that now accompanies simply using a bicycle in today’s day and age have led adults and children alike to miss out on easy and fun opportunities for exercise and physical activity in their daily lives.
The University of Miami’s BikeSafe™ program was developed to improve bicycle safety knowledge and bicycle handling skills in middle school-aged children, and also encourage bicycling as a recreational physical activity and a form of active transportation. As a comprehensive pediatric bicycle injury prevention program, BikeSafe’s mission is to improve bicycle safety, increase daily physical activity, and improve bikeability around schools and parks. Under the direction of Dr. Gillian Hotz, Director of the KiDZ Neuroscience Center at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the BikeSafe™ program is changing policies, creating initiatives, and developing systems that will make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to bike safely in their communities. Funded by Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and through the Florida Department of Transportation, Miami Dade County School Board and community agencies, the program has been successful in reducing bicycling-related injuries and increasing physical activity rates among middle school-aged children.
Since its inception in 2009, BikeSafe™ has created a diverse range of initiatives that have achieved early success in improving bicycle safety knowledge throughout the community. The BikeSafe™ educational camp curriculum was developed for use in Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Spring and summer camps. To date, the program has reached a total of 696 campers since its first implementation in the summer camps in 2010. In addition to BikeSafe™ curriculum training, BikeSafe partnered with the Injury Prevention Coalition of Miami-Dade County to offer a helmet fitting training.
In order to directly address the lack of bicycle safety education in schools, BikeSafe™ staff also developed a four-lesson off-bike curriculum (with an optional on-bike fifth lesson) that would meet the scheduling and programmatic needs of Miami-Dade County middle schools. Through instructional, modeling and creative learning modules, the BikeSafe™ school-based educational curriculum is designed to guide instructors to teach students about bicycling basics, preparing to ride, rules of the road, and safe riding skills in the school setting. The curriculum makes use of familiar age-appropriate physical education games and drills to teach the basic concepts of bicycle safety in unique and innovative ways. This Spring, BikeSafe trained Miami-Dade County middle school physical education teachers on how to implement its first school-based bicycle safety curriculum. As a result, more than 2,000 middle school students in Miami-Dade County have participated in the BikeSafe™ curriculum during their physical education classes to date.
This May, in honor of National Bike Month, hundreds of Bike to School Day events have begun to crop up all across the country. In order to raise awareness for the need to create safer routes for bicycling and walking to school, to emphasize the importance of increasing physical activity amongst children, to reduce traffic congestion and to show concern for the environment, many schools have chosen to promote the very first National Bike to School Day, May 9th, 2012. Naturally, these events build connections between families, schools and the broader community. To celebrate this day, Hialeah Gardens Middle School held a Bike to School Day event on May 9th as a culmination event for the students to spotlight their bike safety knowledge and skills to demonstrate what they learned during the BikeSafe™ curriculum implementation during physical education class. The BikeSafe team, students, parents, teachers, local police, school board members, T.D. the Miami Dolphin mascot, and many community stakeholders rode a loop around the perimeter of a nearby park and then continued to the school’s outdoor basketball courts, where a post-ride rally and on-bike safety stations took place prior to the start of school.
For additional information on the BikeSafe™ program, please visit: http://www.ibikesafe.us
For additional information about Walk and Bike to School Day: http://www.walkbiketoschool.org